Falcons new receiver promises to be a leader

Updated: March 9, 2007, 2:20 AM ET
Associated Press

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The post-Katrina version of Joe Horn is more confident than brash.

Joe Horn
Horn

No need to plant a cell phone in a Georgia Dome goalpost and preen for the television cameras.

"I didn't come here to be flashy, I didn't come here to stand in front of the cameras," Horn said after signing a four-year, $19 million contract with the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday. "I came here to lead by example."

This Joe Horn, a mature veteran in the twilight of an 11-year career, wants to show Michael Jenkins and Roddy White what it takes to become a Pro Bowl receiver.

Horn earned four invitations to the NFL's annual all-star game as a Saint. He sees no reason why Jenkins, the 29th overall draft pick of 2004, and White, picked No. 27 in 2005, should set low expectations for their careers.

"I'm going to call them cats and talk to them," Horn said. "I want to get some words across to them and let them know where my heart is first. I want them to know -- 'I'm not here to shine on you, man. I came here to help. I came here to be a part of something new, something that's going to take off to the next level.' "

Horn plans to help quarterback Michael Vick settle down and make the most of his talent. Horn wants to smooth the transition of new Falcons coach Bobby Petrino, who promises to put the football in the hands of Atlanta playmakers Alge Crumpler, Warrick Dunn -- and Horn.

Clayton on ESPN Radio
 
Appearing on The SportsBash, John Clayton, discusses Atlanta's need for a team leader like Joe Horn and sees him having a great impact on the development of Michael Vick. Listen Insider Insider

Two months after turning 35 and suffering a groin injury that sidelined him for both playoff games and six overall during New Orleans' magical 2006 season, Horn promises the Falcons will not regret giving him $7.5 million in guaranteed bonuses.

"Mike is the leader of this football team," Horn said of Vick, who endured an embarrassing incident with airport security in Miami on Jan. 17. "I know that, but I'm going to let him know that I'm here to help him. He's been here. He knows what it takes to win."

The Falcons lost six of eight to miss the playoffs in 2005. Last year, they blew a 5-2 start and finished 7-9. Vick, who seemed to take over games at will in 2002 and '04, lost confidence in the offense that former coordinator Greg Knapp failed to implement effectively.

"I'm going to bring some of my professionalism to Mike, and I know he will take it inside," Horn said. "I'm not going to push myself or make someone do things just because I'm here. No, I want to be a brother to these guys and when I say something I want them to say, 'You know, I trust Joe.' "

Atlanta led the NFL in rushing the last three seasons, but the Falcons finished last with only 148 yards passing per game. Petrino plans to add more three- and four-receiver sets, making receiver one of the offseason areas of emphasis.

Under previous coach Jim Mora, few players ever spoke up. Vick, much like Jenkins, White and even Dunn, are quiet. So was Ashley Lelie, who spent last season with the Falcons before signing with San Francisco on Monday.

Horn has no problem using his voice to take control.

"You know, he's kind of quiet so he's probably going to talk a lot," Petrino said with a sarcastic smile. "But I really believe that attitude is half the battle."

Petrino, who wants Vick to distribute the ball early and often, believes Horn will only help.

"I don't think there's any question that when you sees Joe's personality that he's going to be a tremendous leader," Petrino said. "Our offense is all about getting the ball in the hands of our playmakers."

Helping New Orleans recover from the devastating hurricane of 2005 changed Horn forever. The storm, which displaced the Saints from the Superdome for the entire season, taught Horn leadership skills he previously didn't understand.

He's come a long way from the cocky wideout who paid a $30,000 fine to the NFL after hiding a cell phone in a Superdome goalpost to gain attention in 2003.

"Unless you were there and unless you went through Katrina and talked to people who went through it and lost family," Horn said, "I don't care who you bring in. You will not sit back in your chair and think you know what it was like. No, you won't. It was hard, but for that city, those people didn't even know New Orleans was coming back."

The Saints were NFC South champions before winning for just the second time in the playoffs and advancing to the conference title game two months ago. Chicago beat New Orleans for the NFC crown.

Horn believes Marques Colston, a seventh-round draft choice last year, and wideouts Devery Henderson, Donte' Stallworth and Terrance Copper benefited from his leadership in recent years. Using the same approach in Atlanta might improve the productivity of Jenkins and White.

"I want to teach them some drills they haven't seen before," Horn said. "I want to be a veteran on the football field, so that when Mike throws them a nice dagger route or a line ball, that they can concentrate while the DB is hanging off of them so they can catch the football."


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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