Desmond Trufant knows he can't 'half-step' in battle with Mike Evans

Cornerback Desmond Trufant says he has to be ready to attack the ball, especially when going up against taller receivers such as Tampa Bay's Mike Evans in Week 6. Jeffrey Vest/Icon Sportswire

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant laughed and shook his head when asked who has gotten the edge in the one-on-one matchups between himself and Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans over the years.

"It's always a battle with him," Trufant said. "I think he's won some; I've won some. Honestly, that's what I can say. Every year, I know he's going to bring it. Every time I play against him, I can't half-step at all because I know he's with it."

In eight career games against the Falcons, Evans has 46 receptions for 692 yards with six touchdowns, 34 first downs, and 99 yards after the catch. The Falcons have won the past three meetings between the teams. However, Trufant sustained a concussion in last season's Week 12 34-20 victory over the Buccaneers and suffered a season-ending pectoral injury in a Week 9 matchup between the teams in 2016, won 43-28 by the Falcons. He's averaged 43.2 snaps in the past six games against the Buccaneers, far below his Falcons' career average of 60.1 snaps per game.

Now healthy, Trufant hopes to build off a stellar performance in last week's loss at Pittsburgh, a showing coach Dan Quinn singled out alongside tight end Austin Hooper's play. Trufant, who is 6 feet tall, might not specifically shadow the 6-foot-5 Evans, but the cornerback is sure to get his opportunities against Evans regardless of the Falcons' defensive approach.

The Falcons host the Buccaneers at 1 p.m. ET (Fox) on Sunday. In the last meeting between the teams, Robert Alford lined up against Evans to start the game as Evans split out wide left. On the second play, Trufant lined up against him as Evans split out wide right. Trufant tipped away the first pass intended for Evans before leaving the game with a second-quarter concussion.

"Just making sure I'm in proper position," Trufant said of defending Evans. "Guys like him, I may not be over-physical with him at the line of scrimmage. But with somebody like him, I've got to make sure when I'm down the field, I'm in good position. It's easier for him to get to the ball than me just because he's bigger than me. So, I have to make sure I'm in position where I can see the ball and get up and go attack the ball."

Tracking the ball is something Trufant has spent extra time with in practice as of late. Before Week 5, he and fellow defensive back Brian Poole spent extra time with coach Dan Quinn after practice working on their tracking technique by throwing tennis balls high in the air to one another. It's a drill Trufant has used in the past, but last week was the first time he broke it out this season.

"It's hard to track a smaller object when you're running and it's coming at a fast pace, rather than just a football," Trufant said. "When it's a smaller object, it just betters your angles that you take to the ball. I feel like everything I do is to make me a better player. I've still got work to do, but I'm always trying to improve."

Naturally, Trufant wants to improve on creating turnovers, particularly after dropping what could have been a crucial interception in a Week 4 loss to Cincinnati. Trufant enters Sunday's game with five pass breakups, no interceptions, and no forced fumbles in 309 snaps played. He hasn't been the same guy since the 2016 pectoral injury, but he has shown signs of what made him a one-time Pro Bowler.

The Falcons (1-4) are in the must-win situation against the Buccaneers (2-2) and need the defense to step up, even without Deion Jones, Keanu Neal, Ricardo Allen, and perhaps defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, who continues to recover from an ankle injury. Trufant and Alford have a tall task in Evans and speedy DeSean Jackson, who leads the league with 24.9 yards per catch.

Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter, formerly the Falcons' offensive coordinator, has plenty of respect for both Trufant and Alford.

"Excellent corner," Koetter said of Trufant. "I think he's one of the top corners in the league and has been since he came in as a rookie."