Cornerback Von Hutchins stopped by the AF.com studio Tuesday afternoon, showing little sign of discomfort from his injured left foot. He was in good spirits despite the recent completion of another round of all-to-familiar rehab session with team trainers.
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In the quest to upgrade the Falcons defense in 2009, Hutchins could be the X factor. He was signed to compete for a starting job and provide a reliable presence in nickel packages but his foot injury landed him on injured reserve the first week of training camp.
Atlanta didn't benefit from his skills in 2008 and the secondary was often thrown into the spotlight. The team finished 21st in passing yards allowed (220.4 yards per game) and took its share of criticism.
Hutchins spoke highly of his teammates Tuesday, pointing out the play of rookie Chevis Jackson at the nickel position and the improvement of Chris Houston in his second year as a starter. Hutchins also mentioned the acquisition of Domonique Foxworth (a free agent this offseason) as component to success.
But there's an issue of youth.
The Falcons started the season with a pair of second-year players at corner (Houston and Brent Grimes). Hutchins and safety Erik Coleman (five-year veterans) were second to just Lawyer Milloy in terms of professional tenure.
The team should regain some of Hutchins on-field experience this season, which could provide yet to be determined short- and long-term benefits.
The cornerback said he started working with his feet and legs toward the end of the 2008 regular season and should be ready to practice with the team in the offseason and into training camp. He watched video of every game through the season and stayed up-to-date on all the team's scheme changes and defensive alignments.
The injury may have been a setback, but it didn't remove any of the 16 starts and 142 tackles (two interceptions) he's totaled in his five-year career.
It also failed to touch his spirit.