FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga.. Brent Grimes is easy to pick out, even though he’s usually the shortest guy on the field.
He’s the guy every opposing quarterback tries to pick on.
The Atlanta Falcons cornerback is only 5-foot-9 — “five-foot-nine-and-a-half,” he’ll quickly correct, making sure one doesn’t forget that extra half-inch — and his resume is hardly the kind one expects from an NFL starter.
Grimes went to a Division II school, Shippensburg State. He was overlooked in the NFL draft. He spent time playing in Europe. He’s been cut or waived at least three times.
He just kept coming back for more.
Now, Grimes is an established starter in the Falcons secondary, a guy with a short memory and a knack for making big plays. Throw his way at your own risk.
“You have to be careful when you go at him. I’ve learned from experience in practice,” Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said Wednesday. “You’re thinking you can fit some things in. He’s not the tallest guy. But his athleticism is impressive. He can jump and make plays.”
Grimes said he doesn’t think teams pass at him anymore than they do the rest of the secondary, but the statistics tell a different story. He’s got three interceptions, broken up another 11 passes and made 45 solo tackles, many of them after giving up the inevitable completion here and there.
The other corner is Dunta Robinson, the Falcons’ major free-agent signing during the last offseason and considered one of the league’s best at his position. With teams rarely throwing in his direction, he’s broken up just three passes, has yet to make an interception and has 28 solo tackles.
“I don’t think they target me anymore than they do anyone else,” Grimes said. “But if that’s what it is, fine. It just gives me a chance to make plays.”
He’s made plenty of big plays for the first-place Falcons (8-2), such as knocking down a season-high three passes in last week’s 34-17 victory over the .
Not bad for a guy no one gave much a chance to ever make it to the NFL.
“Of course, I heard that I was from a small school, that I was too small to play in the pros,” Grimes recalled. “I could make plays, but they didn’t really believe in me because I was from a small school.”
A native of Philadelphia, he wound up at Shippensburg State because no major school even bothered to offer him a scholarship. He set a school record with 27 interceptions, which only made it more obvious to Grimes that he was capable of playing at the highest level.
“I feel like I could’ve played somewhere else. I could’ve played at one of the bigger schools,” he said. “But I was at a D-2 school and I made the best of it.”
Coming out of college, he earned a look from the Falcons in 2006 but failed to make the team. He re-signed the following year and was assigned to the Amsterdam Admirals of NFL Europa, which got him another shot in training camp. This time, he made the practice squad.
Grimes finally made his NFL debut for the final two games of the 2007 season, and the next year he started six games for a team that went to the playoffs as a wild card. He also began to impress his teammates with his prolific feats in the weight room and other tests measuring various athletic skills.
His determination wasn’t too bad, either.
“He’s feisty, there’s no question about that,” Falcons receiver Brian Finneran said. “With all the bigger receivers in the league these days, they’re going to try to attack him because of his size. But what he lacks in height, he more than makes up for with his athleticism, his ability to jump, his quickness, his ball skills. He’s fun to watch.”
Other teams have taken note, and not just because they think he’s an easy mark.
“He’s pretty short,” Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco said a couple of weeks ago, before the lost to the Falcons, with Grimes making his third pick of the season. “But he can go out and play. He can be a little aggravating, too.”
On Sunday, Grimes will be facing ‘s Aaron Rodgers, coming off a 301-yard, four-touchdown performance, and the Packers’ deep, talented groups of receivers.
Like Flacco, Rodgers went out of his way to bring up Grimes.
“He’s very impressive,” the quarterback said Wednesday. “Obviously, bringing in Robinson was a big addition. … But I’ve got to give Grimes his props. He’s the kind of guy you pull for. He’s been released a couple of times and been a practice squad guy. He’s paid his dues. Now, he’s playing very well.”
Just don’t forget that other half-inch.
He’s 5-foot-9 — and a half.