The Atlanta Falcons are putting in their maximum effort this week in preparation for a three-game road stretch that begins Sunday against the Buccaneers. Take a look at the team at work in Week 13.
Throughout his first five and a half seasons in the NFL, safety T.J. Ward has learned a lot about what it takes to be a professional athlete. Drafted in the second round, the football world bestowed high expectations upon him when he made the jump. While in Cleveland, he suffered a couple of brutal knee injuries, plenty of losses and, after three campaigns, didn't receive an offer from the Browns during free agency. Now, as a member of the Denver Broncos, Ward has become a Pro Bowler for a club poised to vie for the Lombardi Trophy.
The wisdom gained from these highs and lows have been passed down to his younger brother, Falcons rookie Terron Ward. The 5-foot-7 running back joined Atlanta after going undrafted, and with the help of T.J., has earned plenty of snaps so far in 2015.
"T.J. just told me what things I have to deal with, what he dealt with," Terron said. "There are lots of different scenarios in the rookie year. It's a long season; you go right from college to combine prep and the draft, all of camp then the season. He told me how to be a pro, how to take care of your body, know the playbook."
T.J.'s mentorship of Terron goes back much further than this season. In 2005, as T.J. redshirted at Oregon, he came home regularly to coach Terron's Pop Warner squad alongside their father. As a defensive back, T.J. used that opportunity to give Terron uncommon advice on how to improve as a runner.
"He'd say, 'Hit this hole a little different. Do this a little different.' And it helped me a lot," Terron recalled. "It was cool because he was my brother but also my coach, which he's been my whole life."
Despite their busy schedules, the two still chart around three times per week—about their own performances, their lives off the field, their upcoming opponents. It may not be long before they discuss what it'll be like facing each other on the big stage: Atlanta is scheduled to fly to Denver in 2016.
What an experience it would be for Terron to use all of T.J.'s guidance against him.
"I've always looked up to T.J. He's just a big mentor to me," said Terron. "Seeing someone go through it, following in his footsteps—my idol has always been my big brother. To have that guy who's done it, it's a pleasure to have."