Eric Weems earned Pro Bowl honors last season after ranking third in the NFL in kickoff return average (27.5-yards per return). He also became the first player in Falcons history to return a kickoff and a punt (55 yards vs. Carolina on 1/2/11) for a touchdown in the same season.
Weems returns to the scene of one of his best games as a professional at 4:15 p.m. Sunday when the defending NFC South Division champion Atlanta Falcons (1-1) head south to Raymond James Stadium to face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-1).
With the Falcons trailing the Buccaneers 24-14 with 10:24 remaining, Weems returned a kickoff a franchise-record 102 yards for a touchdown that cut Tampa Bay's lead to 24-21. Matt Ryan's 9-yard TD strike to WR Michael Jenkins with 4:31 remaining gave the Falcons a 28-24 come-from-behind win and ran their record to 10-2.
Atlanta enters Sunday's game coming off of an emotional 35-31 come-from-behind win over the Philadelphia Eagles; Tampa Bay — trailing 17-0 at halftime — stormed back to defeat the Minnesota Vikings in the Metrodome by a 24-20 score.
Weems, a fifth-year man from Bethune-Cookman University, is native of Ormond Beach, Fla., who will have approximately 10 friends and family members at Sunday's game.
We caught up with Eric after Friday's practice to discuss his electrifying 102-yard kickoff return that helped the Falcons beat Tampa Bay last season along with his take on who the best dressed player on Atlanta's roster, and a playlist on his 1,200-song I-pod called "Pandemonium."
Reggie Roberts: You are returning to the scene of where you made one of the biggest plays in franchise history when you returned a kickoff against Tampa Bay 102 yards for a score. That play jump started the offense and enabled the Falcons to sweep a tough division rival. What do you remember about that play?
Eric Weems: I was just thinking that I needed to make something happen. I wanted to return it far enough to where I would give the offense great field position because we were kind of struggling on offense that day. Tampa Bay's defense had gotten a couple of stops and we needed a spark on special teams.
RR: How good was the blocking on that kickoff return?
EW: I had great blocking on that play. All 10 of the guys in front of me pitched in. There were some guys that I couldn't make miss and the guys who were blocking were able to pick them off. Finneran (former Falcons WR and special teams' ace Brian Finneran) got two or three guys for me on that return, and he really picked me up because I was getting hit and I was running sideways. To be honest, I was a little tired on that return.
RR: You looked tired at the end.
EW: I was tired, but the guys did a great job blocking for me.
RR: You are a Florida native. What's special to you about Florida?
EW: Florida's people are terrific. Then you've got the beaches, the weather and spring break. The weather is always nice — even in the winter time. It's summer or spring all the time there and that's why they call it the "Sunshine State."
RR: Your road to the NFL was not an easy one in that you made the Falcons roster as a college free agent. Tell me about your journey.
EW: I heard that I would never play professional football a lot when I was in high school. I wasn't a heavily recruited guy and I played with a lot of guys who were heavily recruited. Then, I went to a small college and all I heard was that small school guys don't have a chance to play in the NFL. I never let any of that talk affect me.
RR: Did you ever almost give up your dream of playing in the NFL?
EW: No. Quitting never crossed my mind. I just wanted an opportunity to show the coaches what I could do. I was just going to continue to compete, and hope for an opportunity. Once my opportunity came, I just took advantage of it.
RR: You are known throughout the locker room as one of the cheapest guys on the team. Are you guilty of that charge?
EW: I am tight with my bread. I wouldn't say I'm tight. I am what's called a cautious investor. I'm not the guy who is going to go buy five cars and all of the bling. That's not how I do it. When I get paid, that bread is going to be stashed away. I'm putting it under the table, and I'm saving it. Some of the guys tease me and tell me that I still have my Pell Grant checks from my college days at Bethune-Cookman because I spend so little of my money.
RR: Even though you are a cautious investor, I am told that you do shop a little bit. Is that true?
EW: Yeah, I like to be fresh. I have to keep the J's (Jordan's) on my feet. I keep the fresh outfits going as well.
RR: You're not a big suit and tie guy. You're more of a casual dresser, right?
EW: You're right. I am a big walking suit guy. I like to put it on and get it off. I'm not a tie guy. My style is clean, comfortable and simple.
RR: Who's the best dressed guy on the Falcons?
EW: That's easy. Mike Pete (Falcons linebacker Mike Peterson). I like Mike Pete's style. He's comes strong with the suit and tops it off with the hat game and the shades game.
RR: What's on your I-pod?
EW: Lil' Wayne, Young Jeezy, T.I., Squad Up.
RR: How many songs are on your iPod?
EW: I've 1,200. The music is what gets me ready for games. I'm one of the guys who gets himself ready to go with my music. My music gets me hyped, and I feed off the music.
RR: Do you have a special playlist?
EW: I do. I have a special playlist on my I-pod called "Pandemonium" that really gets me going. It's mixture of everything that's so hyped that it will have you ready to run through a wall. That's how I do it.
RR: What's your goal this weekend?
EW: My goal is to do everything in my power to help my team come out with a victory. That's always the main goal. I know it's going to be a hard game for us because every time we play them, it's a slugfest. It will be a great game, and I am looking forward to it.