Vivlamore reporting from Flower Branch.
Surely, Roddy White heard the talk.
Two seasons into his career and there were murmurs about whether the Falcons had wasted a first-round draft pick on the wide receiver. He had just 29 and 30 receptions, respectively, for a total of 952 yards. Good numbers – but perhaps not the expected for the 27th overall selection.
Five seasons later, those conversations have ceased.
White owns the franchise record with 7,374 career yards following five straight seasons of more than 80 catches and 1,100 yards. As he embarks on his eighth NFL season several other franchise records are within his grasp.
Why the turnaround Roddy?
“In year three, I just took football more seriously and took it that I wanted to be a successful player in this league and I could be that if I was consistent,” White said as the Falcons prepare to open the 2012 season at Kansas City Sunday. “In my earlier years, I was out there kind of lost, a deer in the headlights. Just out there being an athlete instead of being a student of the game and figuring things out. That’s probably the biggest thing.”
White, a three-time Pro Bowler, had 215 receptions for 2,685 yards and 18 touchdowns the past two seasons. His 115 catches in 2010 led the NFL and his 1,389 yards were second as he was first-team All-Pro. White had 100 catches, second most in the league, for 1,296 yards last season. The 13.0 yards per touch was the third best average in the league. White has kept up his pace the past two seasons as the Falcons have added tight end Tony Gonzalez and wide receiver Julio Jones to the options for Ryan.
Not bad for a player taken out of the University of Alabama-Birmingham in 2005 who some considered a reach to go that high.
While much of his success can be linked to the evolving pass-oriented NFL, White insists he has become a smarter player. He spends time meeting with Matt Ryan and the quarterbacks. He studies the entire offense, wanting to be aware of everything including the blocking schemes. He spends hours in the film room breaking down each week’s opponent. There are tendencies to be discovered, knowing when to expect a bump-and-run for instance. He might find pass routes that have been successful against a particular defensive back.
“That’s probably the biggest aspect of my game now, going out there and dissecting the film and knowing what I’m going to get [from watching film] before I even get there [on the field],” White said. “I’m just going out there and becoming a smarter, more intelligent football player. I feel this game is so complex between the lines with the things the defensive coordinators are coming out with and how they are using things to … take wide receivers out of the game, you’ve got to go out there and study the film and look at to see what advantages you can take.”
White, 30, enters the season with 530 career receptions, second on the franchise list behind Terance Mathis (573). He is likely to break that mark, needing only 44 more catches. His 45 touchdown receptions are third behind Mathis (57) and Andre Rison (56). He already owns the single-season record for receptions (115 in 2010) and yards (1,382 in 2008).
“I’ve been real impressed with Roddy as far as when I came here and what my impression of what Roddy was,” new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said. “I knew he was an excellent player. Roddy is a very sharp player. He is on top of all of his adjustments. His experience definitely shows up. Roddy gets football and it shows. Him and Matt can say very few words or make a little hand signal and know exactly what each other is thinking. That comes with only with smart players and only with experience.”
Despite the impressive numbers, White readily recites another not-so-impressive figure. He led the NFL with 14 dropped passes last season. It’s something he wants to remedy. He said the lockout left him behind physically and he has also rededicated himself to the fundamentals of the position by doing more film work with receivers coach Terry Robiskie.
“I was behind the eight ball and I didn’t expect myself to be that way,” White said. “It kind of threw my game off. … We fixed the problems so we are going to come in and make some plays now.”
- Chris Vivlamore
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