It's rare that I get to take a knee with a player.
Sunday morning while I finished up one interview, linebacker Stephen Nicholas waited patiently for me. While he did, he got down on one knee to ease his legs after a fully-padded practice for more than two hours in the August sun.
Sometimes it's best to just let players talk, and Nicholas is one of those players. Comforted by his return to the Falcons after testing free agency and the knowledge that he will be staying in Atlanta for a while, the fifth-year linebacker spoke freely about the guys he plays with. The linebackers are a fraternity, and Nicholas expects big things from them.
"We've been together for a little while," he said. "We have great camaraderie and the communication is there."
Nicholas, whose enthusiasm during and after practice is beginning to rival team leader Mike Peterson, used the word "great" repeatedly.
On the middle linebacker, Curtis Lofton, who is entering his fourth year:
"Curtis Lofton is a great ball player. He's a great friend. He's going to be an elite player this year. He's got the defense. He knows the situations. He's a great player."
Nicholas continued, moving on to Peterson:
"What can I say about Mike Peterson? He's been around a long time. He's done done it, done saw it and he's doing it again."
On Sean Weatherspoon:
"Sean Weatherspoon's a great player. He's a young player, strong, can run fast. He's a great player."
He singled out a player that sometimes get overlooked among the big names and personalities the linebackers boast. Spencer Adkins, a sixth-round pick in 2009, is emerging as a special teams threat.
"We've got Spencer Adkins, who is coming along," Nicholas said. "He's a real tough player, nice speedy guy, strong and getting the defense down. He'll be a great player."
The mention of two young guys, Bear Woods and Akeem Dent, also drew praise from the veteran. Of Woods, Nicholas said he was a throwback to the old linebackers of the league, guys who will just wear down and outwork the opponent. In Dent, he sees a player who is learning quickly and did some positive things, in his eyes, on special teams in Friday night's preseason game.
There's one guy you forgot Nic.
"What about Stephen Nicholas?" I asked.
He looked into the camera and shared his personal belief about how great he thinks he can be. He went on to say what he believes he can do to raise his play to the next level.
"I just want to be consistent," he said. "That's the main thing and what I'm striving to do, be consistent. That's what great players do. That's what I'm trying to do."
The linebacker started 11 games last season and is expected to be a significant part of the defense this year. How great they can become will have something to do with how well he performs. He said he's working on the details.
Like so many things, it's the details that seperate the simply good to the truly great. This year the linebackers for the Falcons hope everything they've done will allow them to step into that "great" category.
Nicholas doesn't seem to have any doubts.