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On the first day of the Atlanta Falcons ' recent mini-camp at their Flowery Branch training facility, Roddy White officially welcomed Jimmy Williams to the NFL.
In the initial one-on-one confrontation of Williams' NFL career, he ran step for step with White down the right hash mark. Suddenly, like a sports car changing lanes on an Atlanta freeway, White broke off the pattern and veered to the center of the field. Williams recovered quickly, but there was just enough separation for White to beat the former Virginia Tech All-American to the football.
A few minutes later, White ran a fade down the left sideline. As the Falcons' official Website reported: "(Michael) Vick put a perfect ball up and White eyed the pass before Williams realized its arrival, then leaped and put his arms over the head of the rookie, landing on his back with a 40-plus-yard reception."
So Jimmy Williams, although impressive early, still has some learning to do. To the Falcon coaches, however, those two plays showed more about Roddy White than about their prize rookie cornerback.
For years, the Falcons have been looking for a deep threat to complement Vick's bazooka of an arm. The middle-of-the-field patterns have been handled quite nicely by TE Algae Crumpler and possession receiver Brian Finneran, but Atlanta has spent the last few seasons looking for a field-stretcher. Peerless Price, Tim Dwight, Terence Mathis, Tony Martin and Shawn Jefferson all had their moments, but a key element of the attack remained missing.
White wants to change that. Despite what is expected to be spirited competition from fellow starter Michael Jenkins, White told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week: "I feel that's my spot as the No. 1 receiver. That's what I want. That's what I'm after."
Last season, like all the other pretenders to that title in recent years, the UAB product was promising but inconsistent. He made some tough plays, he botched some easy ones. He dozed off in team meetings. And in the end, Jenkins caught more passes (36 to 29) for more yards (508-446). Both scored three touchdowns, and Vick continued to throw mostly to Crumpler and Finneran.
A solidly built 6-0, 208-pounder, White (full name Sharod) was a two-time state wrestling champion at James Island High School in Charleston, SC -- the better to fend off hand-checking DB's at the line of scrimmage. And as for being a deep threat, he was the deepest on the draft board in 2005, leading the nation with 1,452 receiving yards for the UAB Blazers and averaging 20.5 yards a catch.
It's a rare skill that goes beyond eye-popping speed and soft hands. Like a Gold Glove outfielder, the deep threat must be able to sense the location of the ball while simultaneously battling a determined defender. Like an accomplished basketball rebounder, he has to know precisely when to jump.
With the Falcons, things are complicated a bit by the velocity of Vick's passes, even far downfield. And often, when the Falcon QB is throwing on the run, receivers have to adjust their patterns in mid-flight to catch up to an overthrown or under-thrown ball.
White made it a point during mini-camp to establish good chemistry with not only Vick, but backup quarterback Matt Schaub and rookie D.J. Shockley.
"I've been telling them -- you throw me the ball, and I'll make some plays," White said, adding of his sometimes lackadaisical performance in 2005, "My train of thought has changed."
Now, it looks like an express train.