ATLANTA _ If fast-track Bengals rookie cornerback DJ Turner II wasn't born to play for the Falcons, then, at the very least, would the stars have the audacity to put his first NFL road game in their building at Mercedes-Benz Stadium?
Welcome to Friday night's preseason game (7:30-Cincinnati's Local 12), where Turner figures to roll out there with the Bengals' first defense as Chidobe Awuzie continues his rehab while Turner continues his strong summer impressing with play speed that has matched his scouting combine-best time. The number of his people in the stands may be close to matching his jersey number.
You can't make this stuff up and, if you did, the striking Hollywood writers would cross the line in defiance.
Pull up a chair and listen to JuanDrago Turner the first, who grew up 20 minutes away in the college town (Emory) of Decatur and then raised his son and daughter in Suwanee, where the Falcons used to practice.
"Surreal," says DJ Turner's dad.
"You sit back and think about it. In high school, the big event for the kids is the chance to play in Mercedes-Benz. They're supposed to stage the state championship games there but the weather was bad and they had to cancel it and we had to play it at home. Now to see him do it as a professional, it's like, wow, this is really happening. I don't think it's going to sink in until I see him out there. This isn't the high school jamboree. This is the Atlanta Falcons, Arthur Blank, this is real."
From what the Bengals can tell since they swiped his son in the second round, he's been as real as that 4.27-second 40-yard dash in Indianapolis. Not only that, his glacial game hasn't melted in a training camp against three of the NFL's hottest wide receivers. Sure, he's been beaten. But he's given as good as he's got, winning praise for his aggressiveness in attacking the ball and his whipsaw closing speed.
Just the other day, Pro Bowl wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase walked through a play where Chase had a step on him to the post, but that make-up speed turned into a Turner tip.
"We're still working with him situational and on technique, but he has the work ethic and the confidence," says cornerbacks coach Chuck Burks. "He has an extraordinary ability to work with."
"He can run," Burks says. "He can not only run fast, he can play fast."
This is an Atlanta story all the way.
Drago grew up with the kids of long-time Falcons equipment boss Horace Daniel. He remembers going to Falcons training camp as a kid and being impressed with one of the greatest of Falcons, outgoing Pro Bowl running back William Andrews, and how he was just as impressed when he met him again as an adult. By that time, he was a season-ticket holder and DJ was being weaned on the last years of the Michael Vick Falcons and the prime years of Matty Ice. His coach since eighth grade is one of the Falcons' starting cornerbacks in their first Super Bowl. Ray Buchanan played 107 of his 184 NFL games in Atlanta.
"Ray has taught him the proper way to play this game and play this position," Drago says. "There were times he was with Coach Ray when he could have been with his friends on X-Box or at the mall, doing what kids do. Or maybe when the kids were doing something, he was going on a college visit to do the research. He put in the sacrifice. He's always been willing to put in the work on his craft. A hundred percent pure will and determination. He bet on himself. He's taken full advantage of his opportunities. He's not lacking in self-confidence. He told me, 'I'm going to do what I have to do so they have to play me.'"
Drago left for college to play wide receiver at Livingston University, now West Alabama. He might say to the son, "Think you could cover me?" And there would be determined confidence. "C'mon Dad."
That doesn't even get into the Georgia-on-my-mind connection the Turners have with the family of Bengals' first-round pick Myles Murphy. Drago grew up around the corner from Murphy's mother in Decatur and went to school with her. There have been weddings, spouses, babies, and the families stayed close enough that there were times their sons went to each other's birthday parties as the Murphys settled in nearby Marietta. Even when DJ went to Michigan and Myles went to Clemson, the families kept each other in the loop.
"Think about that," says Drago, 55, whose business is software sales. "We've been friends for 49 years. They came to my wedding when I got married. We just didn't re-connect in Cincinnati. We've been there supporting each other all the way through. Then, yes, they get drafted by the same team back-to-back. How amazing is that?"
Drago and his wife Donyale never missed a Michigan game, home or road, but since DJ would often play at noon, Drago would have time to flip around the channels and find out what Clemson was doing. The dads would periodically check in on each other and it wouldn't always be about football and the kids.
"I'd call Mr. Murphy and say, 'Myles is looking good,'" Drago says. "But there were times we'd check up on each other and just see how the families were doing. Myles is a gentle giant. Very nice person. Very professional. He's been that way his entire life. A really good kid. Not surprising. Apples don't fall from the tree."
They could say the same thing about Turner, a 22-year-old who seems like he's been around a decade. The way he quietly goes about playing his game conjures up memories of another Michigan cornerback the Bengals were high on right away. The minute Leon Hall arrived with the 18th pick in 2007, he was as advertised and didn't leave until nine seasons and three AFC North titles later. Only Pro Football Hall-of-Famer Ken Riley and Super Bowl XVI teammate Louis Breeden played more games on the Bengals corner.
Different styles. Hall's polish leaped from a textbook. Turner's speed and natural cover ability jump off the tape. But the same cool, impassive, old soul approach. Turner makes it his business to know about good corners and listen to them. He's got three in front of him. Awuzie is their No. 1 who has played like a Pro Bowler during his two seasons with the Bengals. If Mike Hilton isn't the best slot in the league, he's one of the best. Sophomore Cam Taylor-Britt's physical coverage made him an all-rookie player.
"I know who Leon Hall was," Turner says. "Favorite Falcon? I didn't really have one. I always watched the top corners. Who was ever the top corners at the time. Darrelle Revis. Guys like that. Champ Bailey.
"I'm trying to take that (next) step mentally. Listen to what Mike, Chido, Cam are saying. I feel like if you slow the game down mentally, I can make my speed an advantage."
No question, Turner says. He expects there'll be a big tailgate before the game. "Especially if it's a night game." His dad says he and his wife just started talking about the plans for Friday night. No doubt the Murphys were going to be involved. They've already hung out, NFL style, when the kids made their NFL debuts last Friday night at Cincinnati's Paycor Stadium.
"One thing Mr. Blank has done that is very favorable to the community is food and drinks in there are affordable," Drago says of the Falcons owner. "It's not sky-rocket. So you go in there, it's an affordable price where you don't mind going to Mercedes-Benz Stadium and get something to eat. We haven't decided yet. We'll make a decision and tell everybody what time we'll meet down there. It's going to be a big family affair."
The family gave him the unique name and "I gave it to him, too. My aunt named me. She came up with the name and, hey, here I am."
And here's JuanDrago II finally getting to play at Mercedes.
"Surreal," Drago says.