Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith might be one of the straightest shooters in the NFL. That’s why he just might be the perfect coach for Brian Banks.
If you don’t know Banks’ story already, he’s the linebacker who had it all -- once upon a time -- and lost it. Banks was a top recruit coming out of high school and had committed to the University of Southern California. But Banks never got to play college football.
He was charged with rape and kidnapping, then convicted, and spent more than five years in prison. Eventually, he was exonerated as his accuser recanted her claims.
The Falcons, who worked out Banks last summer and had stayed in touch, signed him to a contract Wednesday morning. But the deal didn’t come with any promises.
“I had a really amazing one-on-one conversation with [Smith] where he congratulated me and said that he was happy for me to be here, but this is just the beginning of a long road to taking that next step and making the 53-man roster," Banks said in a conference call with the Atlanta media. “We both agreed that I don’t expect any handouts or favoritism. I’m here to work like everybody else. The result of my hard work will be whatever they deem necessary. All I can do is do my best."
Banks’ best might be good enough. He’s 27, and the Falcons must have seen some physical talent in a player who spent last year with Las Vegas of the United Football League. Despite Banks’ age, there’s no need for the Falcons to rush him.
If Smith and his staff think Banks shows enough in training camp to play in the NFL, they can groom him slowly as a reserve behind middle linebacker Akeem Dent or on the practice squad. There also is the matter of the attention that comes with Banks because of his past.
In some markets, that might create a distraction. But I think Atlanta is a different situation. Banks is a one-day story, because the Falcons are a veteran team that came 10 yards from the Super Bowl last season. Taking the next step is the big offseason story for the Falcons, and that will keep the attention off Banks.
He’s also coming into a locker room that has strong veteran leadership, and he’ll be coached by a good defensive staff led by coordinator Mike Nolan.
Banks said all he can ask for is a chance.
“That’s why I work so hard now for the dreams I want to succeed in, because there’s one point in my life where I lost everything," Banks said.
With the Falcons, Banks will at least get a fair chance to show whether he can play in the NFL.