FLOWERY BRANCH – Roddy White and Brian Finneran were reflecting on the good old days this week.
The subject was about Roddy’s rise to Pro Bowl status and becoming one of the league’s top receivers. He had to learn how to play hard at all times. Here’s the link to “Hard in da Paint” by Waka Flocka Flame (instrumental only).
The work of wide receivers coaches George Stewart and Paul Petrino and White’s improved work habits finally came together during the 2007 season.
“I just wanted to be a better football player, then Paul (Petrino) was out there pushing me as hard as he could,” White said. “Ask (Mike) Jenkins. Paul used to put us to work everyday.”
White was a first round pick out of Alabama-Birmingham in 2005. (For you folks that like to blast President Rich McKay’s drafts, you have to give him credit here!)
We don’t have to rehash the struggles and dropped passes that marked White’s early career.
In 2007, it all came together for White.
“At that point in my life, I just thought football needed to be the most important thing,” White said. “I felt like I wanted to do other things and football wasn’t first. I was just kind of young to the game and didn’t know what people expected of me. I didn’t get it until coming into that year.”
He remembers his meetings with head coach Jim Mora.
“A couple of times, Coach Mora used to sit me down and tell me ‘we are waiting on you, come on. Come on,’ ” White said. “I took it the wrong way, like a grain of salt. ‘I’ll get it, I’ll get it.’ I just never got it.
“That was probably one of the most disappointing things, with him being the guy that drafted me, that I couldn’t come on when he was here and do the things I was expected to do while he was here. Him being the guy who actually stuck his neck out there for me.”
White was getting it from all directions. Coaches and players were on his case. He actually didn’t like Finneran because he was riding him so hard.
“He’s another guy, but he’s one of my friends on the team now,” White said. “When I first got out here, we didn’t’ see eye to eye. He always told me that I was talented and that I could run and jump and do all of this stuff, but he said ‘you don’t put the work in.’
“He’d say, ‘it makes me him sick to see guys like you who are capable of doing great things in this league and you don’t want to give up the effort,’ ” White said. “It was kind of frustrating for the (wide receivers) room and for me, not going out there and playing as well as I could. It was frustrating for him because he’s in the same room with me. . . He wanted to see me perform out there on the field. I wasn’t getting the job done at that time.”
Falcons wide receivers coach George Stewart spent a lot of extra time trying to get White’s career jump-started.
“Stew stayed patient,” White said. ”Even the time when I got benched midway through my second season, Stew was always there for me. He just told me to hang in there and that I was going to get my chance. Later on in the season I started making more plays and making more plays.
“Then I started getting back into the games. Stew was always a guy that was just there. He was a guy that I could talk to about anything. He helped me through that process. He got me going toward the end of the season, but it was probably too late then.”
Stewart and Mora were replaced with Paul and Bobby Petrino.
“That was part of it, I think after a couple of years of decent to mediocre performances he knew he could do better than what he was doing,” Finneran said. “I hate to say it, but I think Paul Petrino had a lot to do with it. He got him working hard in practice and doing the things he was supposed to do. He really pushed him really hard and then he got more opportunities. If you go back and look at it, he got more targets and more opportunities to make plays as his career started getting better and better.”
Now, they are lauding White.
“Roddy is one of the best receivers in the league,” Tight end Tony Gonzalez said.
Now, head coach Mike Smith and Terry Robiskie are the key coaches for White.
“Roddy has a great skill set in terms of what you’re looking for in a wide receiver,” Smith said. “I can’t speak for what Roddy was in his first couple of years here. I can speak since I’ve been here and our staff has been here, he’s been nothing but a pleasure to coach. He is a guy that comes out, he’s very competitive, he’s very passionate, not only about catching the football, but he’s a guy that doesn’t mind mixing it up and blocking. I think he’s one of the top receivers in the National Football League.”