Falcons ready for return of 'ultra competitive' Desmond Trufant

New Atlanta Falcons defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel, formerly the secondary coach, chuckled when he was asked to compare cornerback Desmond Trufant to any player he has seen in the past.

"That’s cheating, because I played with his brother," Manuel said of Marcus Trufant, whom he played alongside in Seattle. "His brother had a twitch that I've never seen before, and it's a Trufant thing. They have this quick twitch about them that they could be out of position but all of sudden, boom."

Manuel, who played eight NFL seasons at safety, sees much more than just his former teammate in Desmond, a 2015 Pro Bowl selection and the top player in the Falcons' secondary. He's set to return from last year's season-ending pectoral injury.

"If you step back and you look at him, he's a combination -- because he's not 6-2 and he's not Richard Sherman and he's not Charles Woodson, from that standpoint -- but me being around Charles, he has Woodson's savvy and swagger," Manuel said of Trufant. "And he has the quickness and speed of his brother, and the poise of his brother.

"But then you add that ingredient on to what he does of being a very physical corner that will come up and hit you. It's like the Ty Laws of the world and the Aaron Glenns that weren't big, but will come up and hit you. He's a combination of all those guys."

Of course, the Falcons have high expectations for the 6-foot, 190-pound Trufant, who was rewarded with a five-year, $68.75 million extension in April that included $41.526 million guaranteed. He missed the final seven games of the 2016 regular season and all of the playoffs -- including the Super Bowl -- after suffering the pectoral injury. But now he's back, ready to be a menace to opposing quarterbacks.

Falcons coach Dan Quinn said Wednesday that Trufant, who was cleared to participate in minicamp, is likely to work back into the full swing of things within the next week of training camp. That will give Trufant a chance to refine the one aspect of his game he wants to improve the most.

"I'm always trying to improve in every category, but the one thing I'm definitely focused on is my hands," Trufant said. "I feel that is the only weakness to my game. That will definitely take my game to an even higher level."

Trufant, who quickly developed a reputation for shutting down his side of the field in the Cover 3 scheme, started 48 consecutive games before the injury. During that stretch, recorded 204 tackles, three forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and 48 passes defensed. While he also had seven interceptions, he believes he should have had many more, particularly with his speed.

Manuel agreed.

"I think the next edge to his game, and you'll always hear him talk about this, is when he now turns those PBUs into interceptions, because he will make you pay," Manuel said. "He started doing it a little bit last year. You just want to see him continue to transcend in that part."

While Trufant was sidelined last season, Manuel saw his cornerback emerge as a vocal leader, particularly when it came to preparing fellow starting cornerback Robert Alford. Now that Trufant is back on the field, Manuel appreciates the depth and flexibility he has at cornerback, with Brian Poole, C.J. Goodwin, Jalen Collins and rookie Damontae Kazee all in the mix.

Manuel believes he can line Trufant up anywhere on field, even inside at nickel.

"That was one of the things I challenged him on," Manuel said. "I told him, 'I know you played a little nickel your rookie season, but not after that. I challenged him to learn that position. And if you look last year, he played inside, too. He had [two] sacks. With Trufant, Alford, and Brian [Poole], they can play bigger guys and they can play small, shiftier, quicker guys. It allows you to do a lot of multiple different things."

Whether it's contending with Mike Evans or DeSean Jackson of Tampa Bay or Michael Thomas of New Orleans, Manuel is confident Trufant will get the job done when called upon.

"The main thing with Trufant is this: He's an ultra, ultra, competitive guy," Manuel said. "He is one of the most competitive guys, outside of Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, that I've ever been around. He has that edge. He's not as vocal, which is cool because you don't want a guy who talks a lot. He just competes at high level."