There are all types of players on a roster. You've got your handful of stars that get the Pro Bowl talk, the unknown guys that step up from time to time to make a key play in a win and you've got your unsung heroes.
The unsung guys usually play so consistently each week that they get overlooked a little.
Stephen Nicholas is that guy for the Falcons.
Drafted in 2007, Nicholas became a starter during the 2009 season and his play has steadily improved over the years. He's now a consistent piece of the pie for the Falcons and appears to be thriving under defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. Nolan's scheme has allowed for production from his linebackers and Nicholas has teamed up with Sean Weatherspoon to be the two linebackers on the field for nearly every snap this season as Atlanta test drives a new nickel defense brought in by Nolan.
Being on the field, according to Nicholas, has had a lot to do with his increased production.
"I'm out there more," Nicholas said. "I'm out there and able to play a little more. Also, our coaches do a good job every week. They put us in position to make plays and we go out there and make plays."
Although an injury slowed him a little earlier this season, causing him to miss Week 6, Nicholas is having a career year. His 72 tackles are second on the team and his two sacks this year have come in the last two weeks. He's also added one interception, a forced fumble and three passes defensed. He's third on the team with five tackles for loss.
Entering his sixth season in the league, Nicholas has found a comfortable confidence on the field. His lengthy experience means he's beginning to see fewer things on defense that he's never seen before. Combined with Nolan's play calling, he's been able to be in the right place often for the Falcons and he's taken on more of a leadership role with the D, especially in the last three weeks with Weatherspoon being out.
"There isn't really much I haven't seen now," Nicholas said. "For the most part, I'm just trying to be a leader out there and do the things that I can help this team win."
Like in most lines of work, being able to consistently work and do your job means finding a rhythm. Nicholas said he approaches each game wanting to get a few tackles early on to establish his own personal rhythm which helps him make plays as the game continues on.
He's made his share of plays this season and is a reason for the defense's turnaround, especially in pass coverage. Nolan's presence in Atlanta has benefitted Nicholas and he's making the most of each opportunity and every snap he's given.
"Coach is definitely putting me in situations where I can make a play," he said. "If I can beat my matchup, I can make the play."