Friday, June 7, 2013
Eight in the Box: Rookie eye-catchers
By Pat Yasinskas
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A first-year player who has turned heads in OTAs/minicamps:
Atlanta Falcons: Second-round pick Robert Alford has made a very positive impression in the OTAs and could be putting himself in position to challenge for a starting cornerback spot. First-round pick Desmond Trufant isn’t allowed to take part in OTAs until his University of Washington class graduates, and veteran Asante Samuel hasn’t been around for all of the voluntary sessions. That has allowed Alford to get plenty of first-team reps, and he’s made the most of them. He’s held his own against receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones, and the coaching staff has been very impressed with his speed and quickness.
Carolina Panthers: Every time coach Ron Rivera is asked about young guys who are making a good impression, he mentions safety Robert Lester and cornerback Melvin White, who were signed as undrafted free agents. Lester is the one I think is worth keeping a close eye on. Though he wasn’t drafted, Lester has some pedigree. He played on two national championship teams at Alabama and was an important part of the defense. Charles Godfrey is the only sure thing the Panthers have at safety. Lester has a chance to compete with D.J. Campbell and Mike Mitchell.
New Orleans Saints: Outside linebacker Rufus Johnson stood out during this week’s minicamp. He’s the product of a small school (Tarleton State), but he certainly looks like he has the tools to play in the NFL. He has a nice combination of size and quickness and has been working at the “Jack" linebacker spot behind Will Smith and Martez Wilson. Smith is nearing the end of his career, and Wilson is unproven. Johnson appears to have the potential to develop into a strong pass-rusher and could take on a bigger role in the future.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: While Darrelle Revis works with the trainers on the sideline to rehabilitate his knee, rookie cornerback Johnthan Banks has been getting a fair amount of first-team work. Banks hasn’t been flawless. But at times he’s held his own against starting receiver Mike Williams, and that is an encouraging sign. At 6-foot-2, Banks has the size to match up with the division’s bigger receivers like Marques Colston, White and Brandon LaFell. If Banks can continue to impress, there’s a good chance he’ll end up starting opposite Revis, and Eric Wright will slide inside to play the nickel position.