Sometimes it's tough to measure a successful football season for an invidual player. There's Pro Bowl recognition and individual awards, but it's hard to tell from simple stats when a player has a solid season.
Backups are often as important as the starters on the field and often their jobs are complicated by the fact that they're playing roles on special teams as well. Don't think backups are important? You're only as good as your weakest link. Look at what the Green Bay Packers accomplished with one of the highest numbers of players on injured reserve last season in the NFL.
Shann Schillinger is an important part of this Atlanta Falcons football team. Last season, while serving on special teams, the 2010 sixth-round pick chipped in eight tackles and routinely was in on plays made by other players. He knew his role and fulfilled it.
An ankle injury ended his season with one game remaining last year, and for a guy that's never dealt with many injuries, the unique offseason was challenging.
"I think it was hard with the lockout not being able to work with the medical staff here," Schillinger said. "They did prepare us before the lockout came about what to expect so that was easier. It was kind of hard. I've been pretty fortunate in my playing days to never have an injury. To have that, it was definitely a little different training wise."
Now back on the field, he says he's feeling few lingering issues from the injury, which allows him to focus on serving as one of the team's backup safeties and returning to the special teams unit to continue his strong play last season.
"That's one of the most important things in my position at backup safety," he said. "You've got to be a big-time contributor and a core special teams player. I know that's going to be my role right now. I need to be solid on special teams. It's a very important part of this football game. We take it very seriously around here."
Acknowledging his role as a backup doesn't mean he doesn't push the starters. He's been a big part of an impressive showing by the defensive backs during training camp, especially in the last two days. During Monday morning's practice, he was one of more than a few defensive backs with an interception.
But from the looks of it, Thomas DeCoud and William Moore are firmly entrenched as the starters, which means he translate his coachable and head's-up style to special teams. He identities playing smart in that phase of the game as critical as athletic ability, not unlike offense and defense.
"I think you've got to go out and be a playmaker," he said. "But at the same time, coach Armstrong does a great job each week preparing us for what to expect. Whether it's on kickoff or punt, there are certain keys you've got to look for. Obviously any little advantage you can get, you've got to take advantage of it because it's such a fast play. There is a lot of learning curve to it, but I'm finally starting to get comfortable with that."