RENTON — Coming up to make a tackle in his first exhibition game, Atlanta Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant zipped toward the flat where Cincinnati tight end Jermaine Gresham waited.
Gresham, 6-foot-5 and 260 pounds, headed toward Trufant and welcomed him to the NFL.
Wham. Down went Trufant.
“It was kind of embarrassing,” Trufant said with a laugh.
It was also yet another thing he had in common with his older brother, Marcus. He, too, was clobbered early in his first season. A pulling guard delivered that blow.
After the Falcons picked Trufant No. 22 overall in this year’s draft, he made the family tradition complete. He was the
third Trufant – along with Marcus and Isaiah – to make it to the NFL. If asked, his brothers would say that Marcus was the best football player among them.
The Falcons popped Desmond Trufant into the starting right cornerback spot from the start. The past two weeks, he’s lined up across from Pro Bowl players Larry Fitzgerald and Steve Smith for the struggling Falcons.
Fitzgerald is 30. Smith is 34. Trufant is a mere 23 and watched those guys when he was still covering players at Tacoma’s Wilson High School.
“When you’re warming up, you see guys you used to look up to,” Trufant said. “I’m out there competing now with them. It’s always a respect thing, but, at the same time, I’m trying to win every battle I can against them.”
Smith is among the more vociferous receivers in the league. He had words for Trufant prior to last week’s game between Atlanta and Carolina. They weren’t antagonistic, however.
“I told him early in the game that I respected his brothers and I respected him,’’ Smith said. “The Trufants are always good. You can tell (Desmond’s) brothers have taught him a lot of stuff. He’s patient. Getting in and out of breaks, he’s very fluid.”
The Falcons, with a 2-6 record, have little to be pleased about this season. Trufant is in a small circle of positivity.
“Desmond has a great skill set athletically, but the thing that I’ve been most impressed with is that he’s probably the most mature rookie that I’ve been around,” Atlanta coach Mike Smith said. “I think having two older brothers that have played in the NFL, he’s had an opportunity to visit with them and know what to expect.
“He loves to compete, he doesn’t back down from anyone, and that’s what you want to have in a cornerback.”
Trufant is fourth on the Falcons in tackles and leads them with eight passes defensed. He snagged his first interception last week against Carolina when quarterback Cam Newton tried to hit Ted Ginn Jr. deep and Trufant closed to pick off the pass.
His ability to do that is a combination of natural talent, mentoring from his brothers and many of the lessons he learned at the University of Washington. The Huskies often used Trufant in man-press coverage, in addition to having him trail the other team’s marquee player no matter where he lined up.
That was the case last season when Trufant locked down USC’s Marqise Lee, widely considered the best receiver in the conference, in UW’s 24-13 loss to the Trojans. Lee had a season-low two catches for 32 yards.
“I had a great foundation from my coaches at UW and I brought that with me to the NFL,” Trufant said. “I’m obviously learning new things here, too. I’m just going to continue to be confident and patient in my technique.”
This Sunday, Trufant will try to stop the team he rooted for much of his life and one of his college friends.
Marcus Trufant played 10 seasons for the Seahawks, so, Desmond naturally rooted for his brother and the hometown team.
Former Washington and Lakes High School receiver Jermaine Kearse is in his second NFL season after being with Desmond Trufant at UW for three seasons, during which they often opposed each other in practice.
They continue to be friends, though they may not share the same recollections of how things went in practice when they were matched up.
“You ask me, I’m going to say something,” Trufant said. “You ask him, he’s going to say something else.”
For each, Sunday will be another amazing day. Even with brothers in the league, dreams of the NFL are just that until you arrive.
“It’s the greatest game in the world,” Trufant said. “It’s so much fun. It’s so competitive. You just feel like a big kid out there on the field. I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.”