Shockley, others must sink or swim Friday
By STEVE WYCHE
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 08/10/06
Flowery Branch â€” Some of D.J. Shockley's Falcons teammates recently approached him to see if he was going to need both his team-allotted tickets for Friday's exhibition opener against New England at the Georgia Dome.
"Then they thought about who they're asking and were like, 'Oh. Nevermind,' " Shockley said.
Mom and dad got the freebies. Two other family members are going on Shockley's dime.
The former University of Georgia player begins his public quest to earn the No. 3 quarterback job from Bryan Randall in friendly territory. It will come in an atmosphere where the pressure to succeed will test his ability not to be overwhelmed by the magnitude of the situation.
"The most nervous part probably will be when I see Coach walking toward me and he says, 'You're going in,' " Shockley said.
He could be awestruck by the enormity of the beginning of his pro career or he could show the traits that have coaches smitten â€” poise and confidence.
"A lot of guys that look good in practice fall apart in a game," Falcons coach Jim Mora said. "They can't make decisions. They can't react. The pressure's too much. Then there are certain guys that really shine."
Shockley: "One thing that I'm going to have to do is not try to do too much. I know I'm going to be out there trying to make an impression on the coaches and show them what I can do. I've got to focus in on just playing."
Shockley is among several players who are going to make or break their season over the next few weeks. Mora said coaches are going to put players, especially young players, in pressure situations to see if they can deal with team expectations.
There is a push for the Super Bowl this season, and there can't be many weak links, even as far down the depth chart as the No. 3 quarterback.
"I'm really excited to see those quarterbacks play because I like what I see on the practice field," Mora said. "They're going to be fun to watch. They make good decisions, and they're smart and poised. Who knows what's going to happen on Friday night when we get into that second half? Sometimes you get into those situations when all of a sudden all [heck] breaks loose because the guy that's running the huddle can't handle it. With these guys, that isn't going to be the case, I don't think. It would surprise me if they panic."
Three 2006 draft picks, tailback Jerious Norwood, wide receiver Adam Jennings and cornerback Jimmy Williams, will be evaluated with more of a keen eye than the other two, Shockley and rookie offensive tackle Quinn Ojinnaka, because they are being counted on to contribute this season.
Undrafted rookie defensive tackles Michael Bozeman and T.J. Jackson, defensive ends Josh Mallard and Josh Savage and kicker Tony Yelk also will be under scrutiny because they have been targeted as players who could either be part of the rotation or start, especially Yelk.
Mora wants to see whether Norwood, who was taken in the third round from Mississippi State, will deliver on the game-breaking potential he has shown in practice. While his blazing speed could make him a threat the Falcons need to compete in the NFC South and his cutback style is perfect for their system, Norwood is still settling in.
"I'm looking forward to it big-time," said Norwood, who will back up Warrick Dunn and T.J. Duckett in the offensive backfield and return kickoffs. "I'm still trying to learn how to be patient. I'm very impatient in the backfield. When I get the ball I just want to go fast, and that's not always best. I'm growing a little bit, but I still have a long way to go."