Strong play at cornerback keeps Robert Alford out of safety mix

ATLANTA -- Robert Alford could have found himself in the Atlanta Falcons' safety mix at this point. Instead, he's proved himself worthy of maintaining his spot at cornerback.

Coach Dan Quinn was asked if he pondered moving the speedy Alford (pictured) to free safety based on the need at the position.

"We would try anybody if we thought it could make the team better at that," Quinn said. "He looks so good outside right now. We've talked about (free safety), but we haven't made the decision to do that just because he's really on it just in terms of playing outside."

Quinn explained why he believes Alford could transition to safety, if needed.

"The speed and he's tough and he can tackle," Quinn said.

An Earl Thomas type?

"I'm not going to compare Earl to anybody," Quinn continued. "[Thomas is] such a unique guy and he's played safety for so long. But I do like the intensity that Robert plays with. I think every time you've got more of those, that's good."

Alford is poised for a big year coming off season-ending wrist surgery. He's spent a part of the offseason working out with retired NFL defensive back and current ESPN analyst Ryan Clark. Part of the emphasis for Alford is improving his handwork to avoid defensive penalties, which he picked up regularly last season. And although the 5-foot-10-inch, 186-pound Alford doesn't have the size and length Quinn typically desires outside at cornerback, he can make up for it with speed, athleticism and refined technique.

If Alford continues to excel outside, Quinn will have options to consider at the nickelback role. Top cornerback Desmond Trufant has established himself outside, but Quinn lauded Trufant's versatility to move down and cover the slot as well. Rookies Jalen Collins and Akeem King could fill such a role, although Collins' immediate growth might be stunted by his recovery from foot surgery. And second-year player Dez Southward, making the transition from free safety to cornerback, seems best suited to play outside.

As for free safety, Quinn said the Falcons are rolling with Charles Godfrey, Kemal Ishmael and Ricardo Allen right now. Allen, a former cornerback, said playing safety is a lot easier for him.