FLOWERY BRANCH — For Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford, there was no time for a leisurely transition to the NFL.
They had to step up right away.
Trufant and Alford hardly looked overmatched in their NFL debuts with the Atlanta Falcons, even though they were going against one of the league's top quarterbacks, Drew Brees, and the high-powered New Orleans Saints.
Now, it's on to Week 2 against Sam Bradford and the St. Louis Rams (1-0).
"I did some good things, made some plays," said Trufant, the Falcons' first-round draft pick. "But I've still got a lot to improve on."
Sure, Brees got his completions (26 of 35) and plenty of yards (357), but the Falcons held the Saints in check about as well as could be expected. Problems on the offensive side were largely to blame for a 23-17 loss.
Trufant was handed a starting job as soon as he was selected by the Falcons, but Alford, a second-round choice, wound up playing a lot more than expected after cornerback Asante Samuel was unable to go in the opener because of a thigh injury.
Not surprisingly, Brees went after the rookies. Alford held up just fine, making an interception and breaking up two other passes.
"I prepared the whole week to play," he said. "Once they told me it was my time, I was ready."
The Falcons faced major questions at cornerback after they cut Dunta Robinson in a salary cap move and failed to re-sign free agent Brent Grimes. That left Samuel as the only player with significant experience — and the rookies with a rushed learning curve.
"I thought they did a great job," Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan said. "They weren't phased by the situation. Nothing was too big for them. That's exciting."
While Bradford and the Rams aren't nearly as explosive as New Orleans, they did rally from 11 points down in the fourth quarter to defeat the Arizona Cardinals 27-24.
Bradford completed 27 for 38 for 299 yards and was protected well (no sacks, only six hits). Tight end Jared Cook was a huge weapon with 141 yards on seven catches, including a pair of touchdowns.
Trufant, who broke up one pass against the Saints, said he's most impressed with Bradford's "long-ball accuracy."
"He takes a lot of shots deep down the middle," the rookie said. "He can be on his back foot and throw it 50 yards."
Trufant wore No. 6 at the University of Washington, but he went with No. 21 when he got to Atlanta. That was in tribute to Hall of Famer Deion Sanders, who played his first five seasons with the Falcons. Clearly, those are some big shoes to fill.
"I don't mind it," Trufant said. "There's always expectations and things you've got to live up to. That's just par for this game."
Besides, making his older brothers proud is probably a bigger burden. Cornerback is the family business, with Marcus Trufant playing 10 seasons for the Seattle Seahawks, while Isaiah Trufant played nine games for the New York Jets last season.
Desmond heard from them both after his NFL debut.
"They're always hard on me," the youngster said with a smile. "That's just the way it goes. But they said I did pretty good."
Both Trufant and Alford have the sort of confidence — and short memory — that is the hallmark of any successful cornerback. In the offense-minded NFL, even the best are going to give up lots of completions.
That was one of the lessons from Week 1.
"I feel like I'm the best on the field," Alford said. "Pretty much whoever they put in front of me, that's who I'm going to stop. They're going to have a long day."
NOTES: Coach Mike Smith was snippy with the media after practice, apparently still perturbed about discrepancies over whether WR Roddy White had a high or low ankle sprain. "The report will be in your in-box at 4 o'clock," he said. ... White, WR Julio Jones (knee), OT Sam Baker (knee) and DT Jonathan Babineaux (knee) missed practice. Samuel (thigh), LB Sean Weatherspoon (knee), S Thomas DeCoud (knee), DT Peria Jerry (knee) and DE Cliff Matthews (neck) were limited. ... With about 30 minutes to go in practice, Smith let the players take off the pads. "We played a very physical game," he said. "We've got some guys who are still sore." ... The Falcons announced that Gerald Riggs will be the newest member of their Ring of Honor. He will be honored during halftime of the Oct. 7 game against the New York Jets, joining Sanders, William Andrews, Steve Bartkowski, Claude Humphrey, Mike Kenn, Tommy Nobis, Jessie Tuggle and Jeff Van Note.