On Thursday night in the Georgia Dome, linebacker Brian Banks ran through the tunnel and onto the field for the first time in his professional football career. There are a number of words to describe the moment: extraordinary, remarkable or special.
But possibly the most appropriate word was late.
Instead of finishing high school and playing college football, Banks spent five years in prison and another five on parole after being wrongly convicted of rape. Banks should have played in his first NFL preseason game five, maybe six years ago.
“It was out of control. Just running out there, the flames, the cheers and the crowd, it was emotional; it really was," said Banks. "I wasn’t nervous at all. I wasn’t overexcited or anything, but just running out of that tunnel, I mean, the adrenaline that comes with that is just indescribable. It’s better than any rollercoaster ride you can ever get on.
"It was a really good feeling, and then just to be on the sideline and to hear all the veterans tell you, ‘Man when your turn comes, when they call your number just play.’ Just the support and love from everybody is more than I can ask for.”
But after that moment, which both he and the crowd loved, Banks rode the bench.
After starting linebackers Akeem Dent and Stephen Nicholas had their reps (Sean Weatherspoon was injured and did not play) on defense, the pecking order was seemingly set in regard to the depth chart at linebacker.
Backup Robert James and second-year Falcon Pat Schiller saw the field quickly. As did undrafted free agents Joplo Bartu, Paul Worrilow and Nick Clancy. Banks didn’t play until well into the fourth quarter and was the last healthy linebacker on the 90-man roster to enter the game.
"I know the game wasn’t really where we wanted it to be, so I understood the whole aspect of how rotation would probably be," said Banks. "But coach still found some time to get me in there and get some reps. So, I was happy about that."
Worrilow shined, leading the Falcons with 11 tackles and played as if on fire. He was everywhere and got to the football quickly. Schiller finished second on the team with five tackles.
Banks was credited with just one tackle against the Bengals. While that in itself isn’t an indicator of where Banks is located on Atlanta’s depth chart, the fact that he was only allowed limited time at the end of the game is a huge indicator that Banks is behind his counterparts at linebacker.
There may not be room on Atlanta’s roster for Banks.
Head coach Mike Smith said earlier in the week that Thursday’s game would be about evaluating young players. Banks didn’t get much of shot to show his skills. Guys like Worrilow, Bartu and Schiller played at least two quarters, possibly more. And they seem to be the direction the Falcons coaching staff is headed in at linebacker, not Banks.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.