They call me “Juice Man” around here.
Coach Quinn came to Atlanta from Seattle, where he coached under Pete Carroll. Coach Carroll’s mantra is, “Compete, compete, compete.” So when Coach Quinn came to Atlanta, he brought that same philosophy with him — but he put his own spin on it.
“Bring the juice.”
Follow Coach Quinn around for a day to practice and meetings and there’s no telling how many times you’ll hear him say that. He expects every guy on this team to bring the juice and compete every day.
I remember he was talking to me one day after a meeting last season, and he was like, “Devonta, you bring the juice to this team. You get this team going and you give them a spark when you run somebody over or you make a big play. I need you to keep that up.
“I need you to be the Juice Man.”
I knew that taking on that role would mean a lot of extra work, so I took my preparation up a notch. I already lived by my own personal mantra of, “Get 1% better,” and I always try to put my best foot forward. But being the Juice Man felt like a big responsibility, so I made it a point to own that.
That was at the end of last season — a season that didn’t end the way we wanted it to. We started off hot and, down the stretch, we faded.
We ran out of juice.
So I worked harder than I had ever worked in my life this past off-season to prepare for 2016 and to make sure that that didn’t happen again.
When we started this season 4–1 and leading the NFC South, a lot of people in the media said they didn’t trust us to stay on top of the division because of how we had finished last year.
We heard them, but we didn’t let it get to us. We just used it as motivation to focus on what was really important: the job at hand and the guys next to us. We knew that if we kept that focus, we’d prove people wrong.
And the best part was that, game by game, we started to realize that we had a whole lot of guys who were capable of bringing the juice on any given Sunday. We went 11–5. We won the division.
We all know what Matty Ice can do, and Julio Jones is a threat to pop off for 300 yards every time he steps on the field. But then you also have Taylor Gabriel, a young speedster who basically came out of nowhere to be a big-play threat. He’s on another level as far as rookies go. Then there’s Tevin Coleman, who has emerged as a legit back and has solidified our one-two punch out of the backfield. All of them can make big plays, and do it consistently.
But at the end of the day, football is a contact sport, man. Big plays always get people going, and scoring touchdowns or forcing turnovers on defense gets everybody hyped, but when somebody on defense lays a huge hit, or a running back trucks over a tackler, that’s the real deal. That’s bringing the juice.
And the bigger the hit, the more juice you get.
That’s what I like about Mohamed Sanu. I look at him like our version of Hines Ward. Mo can ball out and catch touchdowns, but he’s also not afraid to come down into the box and hit a linebacker or lay a crackback block on a safety.
I mean, look at what he did to Panthers safety Kurt Coleman this season:
Kurt Coleman is a hard-hitting safety, too. He brings it. But Mo took it to him first. He brought the juice.
You gotta love playing with guys like that.
Keanu Neal is another one of those guys. He’s been playing out of his mind. He’s a real quiet guy who focuses on what he needs to do and doesn’t get caught up in all the noise. He’s pretty mature for a rookie.
I remember that Keanu came to me early this season — just to talk football. We have a pretty open locker room. You can approach anybody to ask for help or suggestions, and he wasn’t afraid to do that. He just wanted to soak up as much information as he could so he could grow as a football player, and we hit it off right away. So it was cool to see him take all the things he had learned this season and put them to use on the field — to see him stand out as a hard-hitting safety, forcing fumbles and letting receivers know that he owns the middle of the field.
Finding out what these guys are all about has been one of the best parts of this season. We all feed off each other, and that’s why it’s been such a fun year.
We hype each other up, but I don’t think we need to hype the fans up very much. ATL is already pretty lit. This year is the first time the Falcons have been to the playoffs since 2012, so it’s a big deal for the city.
It’s win or go home from here on out.
We’re just trying to be 1–0 every week.
This is also my first trip to the playoffs since I came into the league in 2014. I’ve played in big games before, and on big stages. I played in the state championship in high school and I played in big bowl games and in the national championship in college. So I understand the preparation and the selflessness that you have to have to bring home a championship. I’m thankful to have this opportunity, and I know I’m blessed.
My dream as a kid wasn’t to win a Super Bowl. It was just to make it to the NFL. And I thank God every day that the Falcons had the faith in me to give me the opportunity to live that dream.
The Falcons gave me an opportunity, and in return, I want to help deliver a ring.
So be ready, Atlanta. I’ve played in some pretty loud stadiums before, and I know how much crowd noise can affect an opposing offense. So bring your juice.
Because I know we’re going to bring ours.