As the 2014 NFL season draws nearer, more and more, I think this new year will allow us to reestablish ourselves as the team to fear in the NFC South.
Having a losing season in 2013 was an eye-opener.
Two years ago, the Atlanta Falcons were one game away from playing in the Super Bowl. Last year, because we added me and a couple other guys on defense, we assumed it was an automatic thing that we would get it done.
We were probably a little drunk off the team’s success the year before, to be honest. We just assumed that things would work out like they did the years prior, and they didn’t. So now that we’ve had a piece of humble pie, we’re going to come back hungrier and more determined than ever. I’d say we have a really good chance of making the playoffs, if not more.
For me personally, 2013 was one of those years that made me realize that there are no shortcuts. You can never count your chickens before they hatch. It’s something I’ve always truly believe. But to have it happen to me after thinking that I was going to change my fortune by changing area codes -- well, that goes to show that you can never assume things are going to be easy. Each and every year presents new challenges no matter what uniform you have on, or what city you represent.
You have to continue to work hard, train hard, and remain hungry and humble. That has been my thing since day one, and it will be the philosophy I live by for the rest of my life. Every man needs to be able to humble himself, to take coaching, to learn, to seek guidance and continue to be hungry for success.
We have a lot of talent on the roster — a lot of great team players that want to see each other succeed, and are willing to sacrifice for one another to have successful seasons. We all believe if that happens, and we’re able to make the talent we have on paper translate to the field, success will follow. As long as we can do that, stay healthy, continue to help and support one another, we’re going to have a good football team.
One thing that made last season so difficult was losing Roddy White and Julio Jones -- two of our biggest impact players in the passing game, which has been the long-time bread and butter here in Atlanta. The team had become accustomed to using the air attack for success. When your two Pro Bowl receivers go down, it really changes the way the team operates.
So just being healthy will improve us a lot.
We also need more explosive plays in all three phases of the game: offense, defense and special teams. When you do that, it changes the field position game, and that changes the way your opponent reacts to you. If you score fast, that gets their offense back on the field, and puts them under the stress and duress of playing catch-up. Defensively, we have to create more turnovers.
We fell short in a lot of things last year, but I was definitely most disappointed with how consistently low we ranked in the rushing game. The first thing on my to-do list is to make sure that we rank in the top 10 in rushing, and every statistical category when it comes to the rushing game.
As a group, we need to continue training hard like we all have been this offseason, and have that carry over into the fall. The areas we struggled in last season are fixable. We have the talent. It’s just a matter of us playing together.
We will rise up.
I’ve spent most of my offseason back at home in Las Vegas with my family, but I’m well into my training, focusing on what I think I need to do to get better in 2014.
The last few months, one of my main points of emphasis has been making sure I’m fully balanced. We all have deficiencies in our bodies that sometimes cause us to overcompensate. More than any offseason before, I’ve spent time making sure that I’m 100 percent balanced and I have no deficiencies going into the season. We play a physical game, but it’s one way of limiting the risk of being injured in 2014.
There are lot of things one can do to achieve balance. Diet and exercise are a big part of that, and I've always been very good about maintaining balance in those areas. This year, I’ve concentrated on making sure that I breathe. I do a bunch of breathing exercises to get my nervous system fired up, and ensure that my body is functioning properly.
Essentially, it's meditating.
It’s something that I’ve read about, and practiced from time to time. But I hadn’t really committed myself to it, and wasn’t doing it consistently enough to see the benefits.
It only takes about 10-15 minutes per day. I lie with my feet up, knees bent at 90 degrees on a pillow or something, and take deep breaths. It’s just a calming way of starting my day, and I have to admit, it does a great deal for the remainder of each day. It feels good -- not only physically and mentally, but spiritually as well. I’m finding peace.
Right now, my individual goals aren’t quite ironed out. I want to get to OTAs and mini-camp first. But I know I’m still able to play at a very high level. Finishing the season strong last year -- especially that last month of football -- proved to me that as long as I stay healthy, I can be an effective and dynamic player.