One of the main reasons why Chris Long, Glenn Dorsey, and Matt Ryan were the top three players on my draft board was due to their superior leadership skills and potential, in my own estimation. I believed all three more so than any of the other “elite” prospects would relish the opportunity to come to this franchise and immediately take on the mantle as a locker room and on-field leader. They did so in college, so why not in the pros?
And while I fully expect Ryan to be able to take the reins of this franchise in the coming years, he’s going to need some help at least in the time being. And the primary players I’m looking at are Roddy White and Michael Boley. With only John Abraham’s name probably being thrown into the conversation, there’s no doubt that White and Boley were by far our best players last season. And now both will have to accept leadership positions with this team. Alge Crumpler, Rod Coleman, Vick, and Dunn are gone, and Milloy, Brooking, Abraham, and Horn seem like they will follow in the very near future. So now it’s time for a “changing of the guard” so to speak in terms of the locker room leadership.
White showed immaturity last year with his “Free Mike Vick” episode. I think at the time it was a little bit overblown, but frankly that type of situation cannot happen again. Boley’s off-field run-in with the law certainly is not ideal, but now it affords him even more incentive to make up for it this season and show that was an aberration.
Another player I’m going to key on as well is Jonathan Babineaux. Only in his fourth year, Babs is an “old man” relatively speaking since only six players (Brooking, Finneran, Forney, Jenkins, McClure, and Weiner) have been on the team longer than him. And I wouldn’t argue against anyone that stated all six of those players won’t be back with the team next season. Babineaux along with Boley are afforded opportunities in their contract years to really make an impact and instill the notion that they can be Falcons for a long time with how they play and compose themselves in the locker room this season. Frankly, Dimitroff has already shown he’s not shy about cutting those he feels are dead weight. And unless he thinks a player is a very valuable commodity on the field and/or in the locker room, he’s not going to bend over backwards to keep them (see the Falcons 2008 Off-season).
The basic difference between greatness and mediocrity could be explained in that greatness is begotten from people making the most of the opportunities given to them. Think about it this way: the basic difference between being a future Hall of Famer and a “never was” is making the most of one’s opportunity. In 2001, Drew Bledsoe goes down due to a freak injury and a nobody named Tom Brady steps in and leads that team to a Super Bowl. In 2003, Michael Vick goes down due to a freak injury and nobody named Doug Johnson remains a nobody. The simple difference is Brady made the most of his opportunity, while Johnson did not.
My hope is that we’ll be seeing that so-called “changing of the culture” here in Atlanta this season as more players will be making the most of the opportunities given them this year, namely the players mentioned above.