Duckett `starting to hit stride' as he enters pivotal season
Tuesday, June 20, 2006
By Graham Couchgcouch@kalamazoogazette.com
T.J. Duckett says he's happy, healthy and just reaching his prime as a National Football League running back.
Satisfied? That he's not.
At 25, four seasons into his career with the Atlanta Falcons, Duckett is looking for a chance to become more than a short-yardage option and a breather for starter Warrick Dunn.
He wants to be the player he and many others envisioned when the Falcons drafted him out of Michigan State with the 18th overall pick in 2002.
``I want to be an every-down-type back, have 20-something carries a game,'' said Duckett, who conducted a youth football clinic Monday at Loy Norrix High School, his alma mater. ``If I keep working hard, it'll come. I'd like it to come in Atlanta at some point.''
Whether is does likely will depend greatly on the next six months. Duckett is entering the final season of his rookie contract, a six-year $6.2 million deal (the last, incentive-based year was voided), and coming off his worst statistical season as a professional (380 yards; 3.1 yards per carry in 2005).
Reports in the Atlanta media have even mentioned Duckett's name in trade rumors.
Duckett, at least publicly, isn't concerned about what he can't control.
``I haven't put much thought into (going elsewhere). I have to do my job, that's all I can control right now,'' Duckett said. ``I can't ever think about that.''
He won't use the Falcons' West Coast offense -- which isn't designed around a power runner such as the 6-foot, 250-pound Duckett -- as an excuse. And he won't admit he can't thrive in it, or any offense for that matter.
``You have your certain plays,'' Duckett said. ``If you're a football player you have to adjust, that's all.''
The blips in Duckett's trek to NFL stardom don't seem to have dampened his happiness. He said he loves the city of Atlanta, the Falcons' organization -- from his teammates to ownership -- and says so repeatedly without hesitation.
Duckett's off-field life, he says, consists of a tight circle of friends, many of which he grew up with, and, regardless of what happens between the hash marks in Atlanta, he has become an icon in Kalamazoo.
Monday, he gained a slew of young admirers at his clinic, which cost Duckett his voice but was free to the campers.
``Now I see some of the stresses we put the coaches through,'' Duckett said, jokingly. ``I think the kids need (the camp). I had it when I was young and I think it made a difference.''
Duckett is scheduled to head back to Atlanta today. There, away from the town that loves him unconditionally, he'll continue to prepare for training camp, which opens July 27.
He seems aware of what's at stake.
``I'm just starting to hit my stride,'' Duckett said. ``I've learned a lot the last couple of years. I've learned a lot I didn't know as a young player.''
And it's left him hungry.
``Until I'm a Pro Bowler and win a ring, I'll never be satisfied,'' he said.