FLOWERY BRANCH — Asante Samuel says he doesn’t care if he starts at cornerback for the Atlanta Falcons.
His stance isn’t much different from Week 1 last year in Philadelphia after the Eagles acquired Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
Even though he started all 14 of his games, Samuel was initially the odd man out. By October, with Philadelphia off to a poor start, he complained about management’s desire to reduce his role.
With the Falcons, the label of being a starting cornerback is somewhat less relevant. New defensive coordinator Mike Nolan is likely to use more schemes with three cornerbacks and two linebackers than he deploys in the base 4-3 scheme with two cornerbacks and three linebackers.
“We all are competitors, so of course everybody wants to be out on the field as much as possible,” Samuel said on Thursday. “Like I always say, the coach is going to do the best thing to help the team win. You’ll see how it develops and how everything unfolds on Sunday.”
How it unfolds could factor heavily in the outcome when Atlanta opens the season at Kansas City.
If the Falcons are able to control the clock offensively and score when opportunities are presented, they will have taken advantage of a Kansas City defense that has a long list of injuries and is without suspended linebacker Tamba Hali, the Chiefs’ leader in sacks last season.
Atlanta’s defense could face a tougher challenge. Kansas City has potential game-changing playmakers in Dwayne Bowe, Jamaal Charles and Dexter McCluster, an eighth-year veteran in quarterback Matt Cassel and a stout offensive line.
Each team will debut a markedly different scheme this year, too, after the Falcons added Mike Nolan as defensive coordinator and Chiefs hired Brian Daboll as offensive coordinator.
Samuel, now in his 10th NFL season, was acquired in April by Atlanta general manager Thomas Dimitroff, who helped draft him for the New England Patriots in 2003.
Samuel went on to earn four Pro Bowl invitations. He spent the last four years in Philadelphia.
With the Falcons, Samuel plays mostly on the right side of the secondary. Brent Grimes starts on the left side, and Dunta Robinson, who started the last two years at right cornerback, will move inside to the slot in nickel schemes.
At 31, Samuel says he likes any significant role with the Falcons that will help him excel this season and perhaps extend his career.
“I’m excited,” he said. “Life goes on. I’m not in Philly any more. I’m a Falcon. Happy to be here. They embraced me well. The atmosphere is great. The team is great. The coaches are great, so I’m looking forward to going out and having a good season.”
In the first day of organized team activities in May, Samuel’s voice boomed across the practice fields. The former Central Florida standout wanted everyone to know that he didn’t come to Atlanta to fade into the NFL sunset.
His enthusiasm and swagger took hold quickly. The three biggest trash-talkers on defense — linebackers Sean Weatherspoon and Stephen Nicholas and free safety Thomas DeCoud — became even louder. Now, with the Falcons’ charter flight leaving Saturday for Kansas City, Samuel’s influence has affected much of the team.
“The way I approach the game and the way I approach practice every day, walk into the locker room come into meetings, I think it rubs off on people,” Samuel said. “Practicing hard, wanting to be the best every day and make plays — everybody wants to make plays, so I guess it rubs off a little bit.”
Coach Mike Smith believes the addition of Samuel has raised accountability for the entire team.
“It’s a very good thing,” Smith said. “Communication can be a one-way avenue. When you’re collaborating, it’s a two-way street.”
You’re getting information passed back and forth, and I really think that’s the difference between the good teams and teams that aren’t so successful.”
Samuel doesn’t just hope Smith is right.
He knows it.
“That’s very important when you come into a situation as the new guy, you know what I mean?” Samuel said. “Sometimes people embrace you well, sometimes they don’t. It seems like I’ve been here before. Now I’ve got a bunch of friends on the team, and everybody’s excited for what’s about to happen.”