Once Bright Star
One of the gaping holes left wide open by the departure of Michael Boley in free-agency was a big need at the strong-side linebacker position. Boley seemingly had a coming out year and was one of the few bright spots of the controversial and divisive year of 2007, having close to a Pro-Bowl worthy year after being drafted in the fifth round. Boley combined for 109 total tackles, 3 sacks, 7 pass defenses, and 2 interceptions. Many thought Boley would be the perfect candidate to build a young, new defense around.
Not in Accord
That scenario certainly turned out not to be the case when Dimitroff and Smith started their new regime in Atlanta. The promising young linebacker pulled one of the better disappearing acts in recent memory. He had a sub-par to terrible year that saw him getting benched in favor of journeyman Coy Wire as the season wore on. No one knows exactly what happened and both sides remained professional and never spoke of trouble, but it can be assumed that the two sides weren’t aligned. No player ran to free-agency quicker than Boley, which seemed all too fine with the new bosses. Michael Boley signed with the New York Giants for 5 yrs and $25 million, getting the fresh start and big contract he obviously desired.
Every departure creates an opportunity for a player ready and hungry to take over a starting spot in the NFL. The position looks primed for Stephen Nicholas to seize the chance put before him. Drafted by Bolt Petrino in the 4th round, Nicholas came in with monster stats out of Central Florida (He finished his college career with 326 tackles, 20 sacks, and a school record 53.5 tackles for loss) and great physical skill set (6′3, 230, 4.64 40-time, 29 x 225). He was known as a fierce hitter and superb pass rusher coming into the draft. Playing in 13 games throughout his rookie year and all 16 games last year mainly on special teams, Nicholas was backlogged behind mainstays Boley and Brooking and saw action only sparingly last year in a backup role. Nicholas had a big chance to grab a starter’s job last year when Boley fell out of favor and disappeared from his once hopeful outlook, but the coaches went in favor of Wire.
Coach Smith’s new command showed that, regardless of name or draft status, the best player will play. That was the case when Coy Wire jumped up and stole playing time from Boley, eventually grabbing hold of the his starter’s spot for good, leapfrogging Nicholas in the process. This off-season it was revealed that Nicholas had the weight of the world on his shoulders dealing with health issues of his young son needing a heart transplant. We get wrapped up in football and players so much, but a reality check on what’s truly important is needed in the sports world sometimes. With the help and support of his teammates, coaches, and owner, Nicholas’ son is doing well. How could anyone come to work and concentrate on the job at hand with those concerns? Nicholas somehow did it though, still totaling 20 tackles, 1 sack, and 2 pass defenses. .
Ready to Shine
Through an off-season of hard work, perseverance, and sheer will, Nicholas seems primed to have a breakout year and be solid new cog in Atlanta’s new look defense built on speed and ferocity, lining up with the first team defense at mini-camp and OTA’s. It indeed would add to an already momentous story of resolve and purpose.
Lost in all the shuffle of Boley exiting and Nicholas looking to take over one of the outside linebacker positions is Coy Wire. The relatively unknown OLB came out of nowhere to take playing time away from Michael Boley, and eventually grasping the starting position outright. Wire showed an extremely productive knack for supporting the run and sacrificing his body for a vicious hit. After taking over later in the season, Wire had a fairly prolific year collaring 34 tackles and 1 pass defense. More than any other player, Wire exhibited the new regime’s mentality that the best player will play, regardless of who you are and how well known you are. Before starting his stint in Atlanta, Wire is a journeyman who started 15 games in 2002 with the Buffalo Bills, but has played sparingly since. A look at Wire’s career stats:
Tackles – 219, Sacks – 5, Pass Defenses – 4,
A Roster Spot Lock?
1) Is Nicholas ready to have a breakout year?
2) Does Stephen Nicholas give you hope or doubt about the new-look LB corps?
3) Does Wire’s age and relative anonymity bother you at all?
4) Should the Falcons look at current or soon to be free-agents at OLB?
Daily Tailgate Recipe
Nothing like a good beer can chicken recipe. This is a great one by two of the best southern cooks around, The Neelys. Pat’s Beer Can Grilled Chicken, courtesy of The Neelys and FoodNetwork.com.
Next Topic Preview: Will the Falcons Get Younger at OLB?