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With Falcons, undrafted players have legit chance to play

The Falcons pride themselves on developing undrafted players like defensive back Brian Poole (34). AP Photo/John Bazemore

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Brian Poole could have sulked after going undrafted, but he knew better.

The former University of Florida defensive back knew he would get an opportunity somewhere, and he had a good idea of where it would be. It was the same spot where his Gators' teammate, Keanu Neal, became a first-round draft pick as a strong safety. In fact, Poole had an extended conversation with Neal following the draft.

Atlanta was the place to be.

"I had options, but I just thought this was the best opportunity for me to make the team," Poole said. "Once it didn't work out in the draft, I just decided to come play with (Neal). It's really not about the draft. Once you're here, everybody's equal. Everybody's competing. The cream rises to the top."

Now, Poole find himself seeing plenty of snaps as the primary nickel back in training camp, covering in the slot. The opportunity exist, in part, because cornerback Jalen Collins is suspended for the first four games of the season after violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances, meaning someone else will have to be the other cornerback behind Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford to start the season. Undrafted cornerbacks C.J. Goodwin and DeMarcus Van Dyke also are vying for the third cornerback spot -- as is former seventh-round pick Akeem King -- with the potential for Alford to move inside if one of those players lines up outside.

"I feel like I'm playing OK," Poole said. "I've got some stuff to work on, but it's going pretty good."

The point is, opportunities exists for undrafted players when they join the Atlanta Falcons. Skim through the roster and you will find a number of impactful undrafted players, including Pro Bowl fullback Patrick DiMarco, middle linebacker and three-time leading tackler Paul Worrilow, special teams ace Eric Weems, starting right tackle Ryan Schraeder, and veteran kicker Matt Bryant. Going into the final game of last season, the Falcons had 13 undrafted players on the 53-man roster. That doesn't include Bryant and 10-game offensive line starter James Stone, both of whom were on season-ending injured reserve.

Falcons coach Dan Quinn and the staff made sure to emphasize how undrafted players have a home. In fact, the Falcons sent a video to the agents of players promoting their "Plan D" development of such players. Worrilow and Schraeder had significant speaking roles in the video.

"There's so many guys that like, go for it," Quinn said of undrafted players. "There have been tons of them. And there's another group coming right now of guys like Poole. (Joshua) Perkins, the tight end, is battling. A couple of the safeties. The receivers are always going for it. (Brandon) Wilds at running back. ... The opportunity is now here. What are you going to do with it?"

Thursday's first preseason game against the Washington Redskins will give the undrafted players even more opportunity to showcase their skills. The player to watch co

uld be Wilds, who might get more reps with third-string running back Terron Ward -- also an undrafted player -- coming off a left ankle injury.

Worrilow said he has been approached by some of the younger players about what it took for him to make it as an undrafted player.

"The biggest thing I told them is get a routine down," Worrilow said. "Don't get caught up in not knowing where to go and relying on other people. Get to those meetings early and be on everything. Be on all the details. Be to practice early and work on your stuff.

"Being undrafted, you're not always going to get a ton of reps. And if you mess up, you might not get reps to go back in and show you can fix it. Just be ready to go when you get your reps. And special teams, as an undrafted guy, is the way to go. I think that first preseason game was a big game for me, because I had some tackles, but I had two tackles on special teams that day. That was big for me."