Catching Up With John Abraham

On Sunday, former Gamecock great John Abraham returned to the Carolinas for his Atlanta Falcons team's match-up with the NFC South Division rival Carolina Panthers. Abraham, who came into the game with an NFL-leading 6 sacks, was unable to add to that total as the Falcons fell 24-9 to the Panthers. Abraham, however, did block a punt in the opening quarter that led to an early Atlanta field goal.

After the game,'s Rich Taylor caught up with the all-pro defensive end in the Atlanta locker room:

RT: "You've come out of the gate with a vengeance. What's been the key to your great start?"

John Abraham: "I think the coaches that we have gotten in here have put me in a good scheme. They're also trying to keep me healthy during the season, not trying to wear me out in practice as much. And in the preseason, I was in on a lot less plays than I usually take. That definitely helped me get off to a good start."

RT: "It seemed like you weren't in the game for as many snaps as we've been used to seeing in past seasons. Are the coaches giving you more blows during the game than you have been given in the past?"

JA: "Oh yeah, a lot more. (Defensive line coach) Ray (Hamilton) is doing a good job getting me out (of the game) when I am less needed. He figures they need me more when it is a passing down and I can kind of use my (pass rushing) skills a little more. As a result, I'm more rested than I've ever been. I can honestly say that after the game I'm not totally exhausted. Before, I would have nothin' left after the game. But now I'm kind of well-rested and that means, in the fourth quarter, I can really get off on the ball and do what I can do".

RT: "You are 30 years old now. Are you hitting your peak physically as a football player and athlete?"

JA: "I think so. I think I've been here (skill-wise). I think I just haven't had the opportunity to get the chance to show it as much as I am now with this defensive scheme we are playing with."

RT: "After Brian VanGorder left the Falcons to become the defensive coordinator for the Gamecocks, he was given the opportunity a few days later to return to Atlanta when Mike Smith was hired as your new head coach. Were there any negative feelings about his leaving the Falcons for USC, then jumping ship with the Gamecocks to return to the team he had just left?"

JA: "Brian actually called me. He was like, ‘John, you know I'm going to USC, but they want me back here as defensive coordinator'. I said, ‘Well come on back, man'. It's good to have a friendly face, someone who already knows you, as a coach. So I was okay with him coming back and there were no hard feelings at all."

RT: "Let's talk about these "new" Atlanta Falcons. After four games, you have obviously had some ups and some downs, but it seems like maybe you guys are, even with the tough one today, a little bit ahead of some of the perceptions of how good or bad this team was going to be this season."

JA: "Yea, I think I heard someone in the national media say we were going to go 1-15, so we're already up one game on that. I think people are watching us now and actually seeing that we have a chance to be a good team. I think last year, and prior to this season starting, there was a lot of skepticism as to how good we were going to be as a team. But I think (head coach) Mike (Smith) did a good job coming in, acting professionally, and treating us like professionals. I think that's why we are moving up now, instead of declining."

RT: "As a veteran on this team, has your role changed as far as being more than just a great player? Are you depended on to be a team leader?"

JA: "Definitely. I'm 30 now and in my ninth year in the league. A lot of people look up to me, so I've got to be a role model, especially to the young guys. I'm the leader in the D-line room. We've got Lawyer (Milloy) in the DB room, and we've got Keith (Brooking) in the Linebacker room. So we've got an old guy in every (meeting) room on defense and that's really helping us out right now."

RT: "Do you feel like the NFC South is wide open?"

JA: "I feel like it is. We kind of started it off wrong with two losses, to Tampa Bay and a loss here today. But I still think we have an opportunity because we get a chance to see both of them again. I guess that's the only positive we can put on this loss today."

RT: "Did you have any good battles with (Panthers' guard/tackle) Travelle (Wharton) today?"

JA: "None really. They were throwing the ball so fast with 3-step drops and they were running the ball. They got the lead early and they did a good job of sustaining it. They did a good job of running the clock down and trying to get the game over with a win."

RT: "How much have you been keeping up with the ‘Cocks?"

JA: (laughs) "The Georgia game almost killed me! It almost killed me because we had a chance to win, actually two chances to win. The interception at the end and the fumble on the 2 (yard line)... that hurt. But you know, we played well and showed that we had fight."

RT: "You've got to be proud of what seems to be a pretty darn good defense down there (USC), huh?"

JA: "I am. You know, they've got good players. Norwood and Brinkley, they're playing well. They're grown guys. I saw them during the off-season and told them that it was their team, and they're acting like it really is their team. They're doing a good job."

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