By Mark Bradley | Thursday, August 10, 2006, 05:58 PM
Flowery Branch â€” John Abraham plays right end. On defense, thatâ€™s the glamour position. A quarterback has the best chance to make a big offensive play because he touches the ball every down. A right end has the best chance to make a big defensive play because he can touch the quarterback â€” assuming heâ€™s right-handed, which most are â€” from his blind side.
Most defenders will pay lip service to the importance of stopping the run. Abraham skips over that part, saying, â€œIf you canâ€™t stop the run, thereâ€™s no reason for anyone ever to pass on you.â€ But letâ€™s assume this seasonâ€™s Falcons will stop the run better than last seasonâ€™s. That done, what commodity propels a defense to the summit?
John Abraham makes big plays.
In six pro seasons, he has 53-1/2 sacks and has induced 19 fumbles. (See what happens when you hit a quarterback when heâ€™s not looking?) Abrahamâ€™s arrival in Flowery Branch has passed largely without notice, but when the Falcons start playing â€” that comes tonight against New England â€” heâ€™ll become rather more apparent.
About those fumbles: â€œI learned as I got older. When youâ€™re young, you care more about getting sacks. But I have more opportunity [to force fumbles] than anyone because Iâ€™m the right end. Getting the sack is fine, but forcing a fumble is bigger.â€
In a difference-making position, Abraham plans to make a difference. Three times a Pro Bowler, Abraham arrives at something approaching a career apex. Heâ€™s 28. He wanted to play here partly because itâ€™s close to home â€” heâ€™s from Timmonsville, S.C. â€” but mostly because the Pro Bowler wants to sniff a championship.
In Abrahamâ€™s six seasons in New York, the Jets won one AFC East title and a total of two playoff games. (They were 4-12 last year, a time in which Abraham said he â€œlearned to focus on my football, not wins and losses.â€) In his last season at South Carolina, the Gamecocks were 0-11. When youâ€™re as good a player as he is, you donâ€™t want to be known as the All-Pro who never found the right team.
His new employer, Abraham said, â€œhas everything it needs already. This defense can be the top defense in the NFL â€” top five, easy.â€
Certainly this defense has the makings of a front four. Rod Coleman just played in the Pro Bowl. Patrick Kerney, the left end, has 48-1/2 sacks over the last five seasons, and already Abraham senses a wager a-brewing. â€œ[Kerney is] such a competitor. Heâ€™s going to be mad if I have more sacks than he does, and Iâ€™m going to be mad if he has seven and I have five and I have to get my grind on. I had something like that [a side bet] with Shaun [Ellis, the Jetsâ€™ other defensive end] last year.â€
For the record, Abraham won by eight sacks. That was about the only positive memory he takes from his final year in New York, although playing for the Jets scarcely qualifies. Abraham lived on Long Island to be close to the Jetsâ€™ practice facility, and when it came time to play a â€œhomeâ€ date in New Jersey, logistics made it seem â€œlike a road game. You had to get on the bus and get through the traffic. Itâ€™d take three hours to get back. Itâ€™ll be a lot easier here â€” thereâ€™s less traffic.â€
Thatâ€™s correct. Abraham stands as the first transplanted Atlantan not to feel nonplussed by the local road conditions. Indeed, nothing about his relocation has given him cause to reconsider. When he talks to his friends around the league, â€œNobodyâ€™s said I made a bad choice [coming here]. Iâ€™m going to be close to home. Every gameâ€™s going to be a home game.â€
And the team? The difference-maker has this immediate goal: â€œNothing less than the Super Bowl. It may be a little too early to say that, but thatâ€™s how my heart feels, and I wouldnâ€™t say it if I didnâ€™t believe it. Weâ€™ve got the potential â€” which is the worst word in the book, by the way â€” and if we go 12-4, 13-3, against our schedule, thereâ€™s no way we canâ€™t win the championship.â€
A Falcons player for not quite five months, John Abraham believes he has found the right team. The Falcons seem certain theyâ€™ve found a right end.