Miami native Marquand Manuel at home for first shot as Falcons coordinator

As a kid, Atlanta Falcons defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel remembers staring into the sky while standing in front of his Miami home and seeing plays unfold during Dolphins games.

"I grew up on 157th street and the stadium was on 199th," Manuel recalled. "We could see the JumbroTron at Joe Robbie from there. I tell people all the time that I never had tickets to a Dolphins game. We were less fortunate. But it was OK. I could always see it in the background."

Manuel will be at the forefront when he walks into the familiar Miami venue, now known as Hard Rock Stadium, for Thursday night's exhibition opener against the Dolphins. It will be the first time that Manuel, 38, takes the field with the title of defensive coordinator. And it will be a moment he can share with family and friends.

"I’m not sure how many people are going to be there because I'm not going to spend all my money on tickets, I can tell you that," Manuel said with a laugh. "My mom will be there.

"It's one of those things that, it's all about the players. I never make it about me. [Family and friends], they laugh and joke and they want to support, but I just tell them, 'Hey man, just watch it on TV.' But appreciate the fam and friends. They made me who I am, and it's been awesome. I appreciate the blessings."

Manuel grew up in Miami as one of 17 children. He went to Miami Senior High School, where he was a standout safety and track star. His first time in Dolphins Stadium he was named first-team all-county as a senior.

Manuel then played college ball at Florida, opting not to stay at home because Miami was on probation. He didn't regret the decision despite his best friend, wide receiver Andre Johnson, signing with the Hurricanes a couple of years later.

Manuel was just happy to make it to college in the first place.

"A lot of people don’t understand the background that I came from, understand that I'm one of the two guys who could have gone right, but I decided to go left," Manuel said. "Somebody stood in that gap for me.

"What people see is that energy of always being positive, understanding that I've seen my friends get killed in front of me. I've seen nights we didn't have anything to eat. I've been blessed."

Manuel, a sixth-round draft pick of Cincinnati in 2002, played eight NFL seasons with six different teams. The last time he played in Dolphins Stadium was in October of 2006, when he was a teammate of Green Bay Packers' Hall of Famer Brett Favre.

Now Manuel has his chance to be the signal-caller from the defensive side of the ball. He'll start his new coordinator duties from field level.

"We're going to experiment with it," Manuel said of being on the sideline Thursday night rather than upstairs in the box. "I've spent four years upstairs coaching, and I've spent the last two downstairs. I've had both ends of that spectrum, which is awesome. However, in the process, it's what's best for us and this team."