Falcons cornerback Robert Alford intent on taking game to new level

The prideful side of Robert Alford wants to show everyone he can excel outside at cornerback. But Alford refuses to be selfish about his role in the Atlanta Falcons' revamped defense.

He knows the Falcons drafted a cornerback in Jalen Collins who is talented enough to make an immediate impact outside. He realizes the coaches could ask him to slide down into the slot and play the nickelback role, if Collins emerges upon his return from foot surgery. Potential Pro Bowler Desmond Trufant already has one side locked down.

"I'd love to play outside and nickel," Alford said. "I told the coaches I'd love to play both. Wherever they need me, I'm willing to play. As long as I'm on the field being able to compete and show my talent, I feel good."

Alford has impressed coach Dan Quinn with his play outside. Quinn said there was talk about moving Alford to free safety, but those discussions subsided after Quinn watched Alford compete at cornerback.

"I do like the intensity that Robert plays with," Quinn said. "I think every time you've got more of those, that's good."

Quinn is known for liking those tall, rangy cornerbacks in the mold of Richard Sherman for his defensive scheme. That's why the Falcons drafted the 6-foot-1, 203-pound Collins. That's the reason Quinn converted free safety Dezmen Southward (6-1, 210) to cornerback, although Southward's growth at the position will be stunted following knee surgery.

But Alford, at 5-10, doesn't subscribe to the theory that smaller cornerbacks will have issues in today's NFL world of supersized receivers.

"Something I've always gone off of is, I used to watch [Darrelle] Revis, and Revis is not 6 foot and he's not 6-3," Alford said. "He's 5-10, just like I am. It's not how tall you are. It's not how long you are. It's not how fast you are. It's whoever has the right fundamentals and whoever has that heart deep inside and wants to go out there and grind and compete.

"As far as grinding and competing, I feel like that's me. I just have to go out there and show the coaches that I deserve to be out there."

Alford is taking the necessary steps to elevate his game. First, he's worked diligently to improve his technique after drawing four pass-interference penalties, three defensive holds and one illegal-contact penalty last season. The rebuilding process started with offseason workouts alongside close friend and former NFL defensive back Ryan Clark.

"My focus is just to work on my technique," Alford said. "Last year, I had some penalties. I'm just coming in and getting my technique and fundamentals right. It's just about putting [your hands] in the right frame of the receiver. You can't get your hands outside of him because they'll call holding. When I went out there to work out with Ryan, that's something that we specialized on when doing drills."

Then Alford sat down with Falcons secondary coach Marquand Manuel and went over all 10 games he played last season before suffering a season-ending broken wrist.

"We looked at the games when I was in press technique, and he just coached me from there," Alford said of Manuel. "I was with him each and every day and we'd just watch a game at a time. He just told me what he thought I could improve. Every game, he had something to coach me on. That's just him as a coach. He's always going to find something. You're never going to have a 100 percent good game."

The goal for Alford, of course, is to have the positives outweigh the negatives. So far, he's off to a good start under the new staff.

"I know deep inside what I can do and what I can bring to the team," Alford said. "All I can do is go compete."