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Sunday, December 21, 2014

Warrick Dunn Talks Michael Vick, Jim Mora, Tim Tebow, and the Running Back Wall with LBS

LBS had the pleasure this week of speaking with former three-time Pro Bowl running back, and current part owner of the Falcons, Warrick Dunn. Warrick is hosting a care package stuffing event and free concert with country star Rodney Atkins Sunday at Cowboys Stadium. The event is for the Crown Royal Heroes Project, and Dunn is inviting Dallas locals to come out to before the game and stuff care packages for Dallas servicemen and women overseas. For every bag stuffed, Crown Royal will donate $10 to the Texas Wildfire Relief Fund.

We talked with Warrick about his time at Florida State, his pro career, and the running back wall. He had some really interesting thoughts on Tim Tebow, his former Atlanta teammate Michael Vick, and his former Falcons coach Jim Mora, who is being considered for the UCLA job. He also talked about his biggest regret as a player. Our conversation follows.

How did you end up at FSU over LSU if you’re from Baton Rouge?

It felt like home. I felt at ease when I went on a visit, and I just felt like it was the right place for me to be. Coach Bowden made me feel at home, and the players and community accepted me. In hindsight, it’s the best move I’ve ever made in my life. I bleed garnet and gold.

At the time, LSU wasn’t as good as they are now. I wanted to play running back and Florida State gave me the opportunity to play running back. LSU had six running backs coming in, all who were the top running back in their respective states, so it’s kind of hard to compete with that when I was an option quarterback in high school. I was kind of lucky that Florida State was recruiting my running back at the time.

When you were in the NFL, you generally played in two-back systems throughout your career. Do you think we’re at the point where that is the only way for teams to go?

I think having a two-back system works better. The season is so long, the guys take a beating, so to ensure you have consistency every game, you have to have a two-headed monster. Sometimes it takes away from a guy’s stats, but if you’re exceptional, you’re going to get the ball consistently and during crunch time. You can still be productive and add a lot of value to your team in a two-back set.

We hear so much about running backs not lasting long, or dropping off at a certain period of time. Did you ever experience anything like that? Is there a point where after a long season where it’s tough to recover, or do you ever hit a point where you no longer “have it” as a running back?

It just comes all of a sudden. It just happens all of a sudden that it comes, and you’re not that elite back. You can have it one year and it just changes. The hits and everything else just add up over time. You get accustomed to that, but you have to take advantage of that one particular year, and then you move on to the next. For running backs, the lifeline for a running back is only three and a half years, so take advantage of it while you have it.

In Atlanta, you played with Mike Vick as your quarterback for most of those years. He admitted that he did not work hard enough while he was there. Did you feel like that was the case when you were teammates?

When you look back on it, you say ‘yeah, he didn’t do enough.’ But at that particular time, we all have to believe that your starting quarterback is doing everything he can to make himself better. It’s unfortunate that he wasn’t. It happened. I think he’s a better person and better player today than he was in Atlanta.

I’m just happy he was able to grow. He’s a better overall teammate and player to the guys he’s playing with now.

At the time, you did not feel like that was the case, or you did not think about it?

You don’t think about it. We’re all trying to take care of ourselves and do our part to help our team win. But looking back on it now, I can see that if you’re not the last guy to leave the building, you’re not doing everything you can to be the best. He made his mistakes, move on.

What he was able to do last year with Philadelphia, did that surprise you? Did you know he had that in him?

It just showed a lot of maturity. He’s a guy that grew a lot, matured, and became a better player. I think he had to go through some things, and he found the right place at the right time with coach Andy Reid and Philadelphia.

One of your coaches with the Falcons was Jim Mora. He’s being mentioned for a few jobs right now. What did you think of him as a coach, and what were his strengths and weaknesses?

I liked him as a coach. He’s a players’ coach. He understands the game. He can motivate. I think his weakness was that he was new to the position, and he was just young. First head coaching job, sometimes they worry about the inexperience. I think he’ll be a great coach. He’s learned a lot from his time in Atlanta and I know he had a brief stint with the Seahawks, but he should be OK. He can motivate people to always be at their best.

When you were in Tampa, Tony Dungy was your coach. It’s been said that he has a different coaching approach from others. He’s not a yeller, he doesn’t cuss. Was that the case, and is that an approach that you like from your coach?

Yeah, that was the case, and I respect that. You become so accustomed to [yellers], that when someone cusses you you’re like ‘Wait, this person did not just do that.’ It’s one of those things that you get used to it and that’s what you expect from every coach. But Dungy’s an exception to the rule. He’s just an exceptional guy that held you to a higher standard and didn’t have to curse to get you to always be at your best. He gave you a look, and you understood what that look meant.

His motivational tactics — there was always reasoning. He put stuff together and it all made sense why it happened.

I know you’re a spiritual/faithful person. Tim Tebow has captured attention for the way he mentions religion on the field. Do you have any problems with that or do you think it’s a good approach because he’s just spreading what he believes?

Everybody’s going to handle things differently. Some guys can accept that, and for other guys, after a while, it gets old. The majority of people believe in God and are Christians, they just don’t want to hear it every day. Tim is glorifying the Lord in ways that only he knows how. So you have to accept that, and not try to change him, or anyone else.

He has a platform where he’s able to spread his word, his religion, and his faith, and we all have to accept it. Some people love it, some people don’t. It’s a touchy situation just because you’re dealing with religion.

Would it bother you at all if he were a teammate?

I played with religious guys, they just weren’t outspoken. I’m sure the leaders with Denver probably approached him, but he’s winning football games — there’s not too much that you can really say to him right now.

I don’t know if it would bother me, if it did, I’m sure I would go and talk to him like a man. But I’m fine with Tim and what he brings right now. He’s really exciting and he’s really starting to change the perspective of a lot of people in pro football about his talents.

What was the best thing about your career, and what was the biggest regret of your career?

My biggest regret is that I wasn’t in one of those offenses where I utilized my receiving abilities as much as I would like. Being in the slot, creating the match-ups, and being in one of those offenses that utilizes the back in the passing game like other backs were able to do would have been nice.

The biggest things I was proud of was being able to rush for over 10,000 yards, and being able to play 12 years. Being an undersized guy and having to prove yourself consistently, for me that speaks volumes. I was able to have longevity in a tough environment, in a tough game — in a big boy’s game.



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