FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (July 28, 2006) -- John Abraham has found his comfort zone after one practice in pads with the Falcons.
A smiling Abraham proclaimed he finally felt like he was home following six seasons with the Jets.
"This is how I'm used to life being," Abraham said Friday. "When I went to New York, that was culture shock. Coming down here, this is how life is supposed to be lived."
Abraham, a former South Carolina star who was born in Timmonsville, S.C., is a part of perhaps the most decorated defensive line in Falcons history.
Abraham, the right defensive end, is a three-time Pro Bowl pick. Patrick Kerney, No. 3 on the team's all-time sacks list, was a 2005 Pro Bowl selection. Tackle Rod Coleman made his first Pro Bowl team last season after leading the league's interior linemen in sacks for the second straight year.
The only position without an established star is nose tackle, where third-year pro Chad Lavalais began training camp as the starter.
The Falcons have complied stats showing Abraham (49), Kerney (48.5) and Coleman (44.5) ranking among the NFL's sack leaders for the last five seasons. Michael Strahan of the New York Giants and Tampa Bay's Simeon Rice each have 67.5 sacks to share the lead in that span.
Abraham said the line has the potential to be great.
"We haven't played," he said. "We haven't put up any numbers now. But just personnel-wise, cornerbacks, linebackers, the whole defense, I feel more comfortable with the experience we have."
For Kerney, the additions of Abraham and safeties Lawyer Milloy and Chris Crocker send a clear message that the Falcons, including owner Arthur Blank, are determined to bounce back from last year's 8-8 finish and repeat their 2004 run to the NFC championship game.
"Mr. Blank, without saying it, went out and acquired the people to say we want a world championship right now," Kerney said. "We're done building. We had needs and he went out and got the best players available for each of those needs."
Perhaps the biggest of the acquisitions was Abraham, who came to Atlanta from the Jets after agreeing to a six-year, $45 million deal that included $18 million in guaranteed money. The Falcons gave up their 2006 first-round draft pick in the trade.
"They had a tight defense already with Rod, with Patrick, with Keith Brooking and Ed Hartwell at linebacker," Abraham said. "We just came here to help. We're not trying to cure anything. We're just here to help the defense get to where it needs to be."
After signing the big contract, Abraham said he has been asked if he feels more pressure. He said the greater pressure was trying to become a free agent with the Jets, only to be given a franchise tag.
Last year Abraham sat out training camp with the Jets because he wanted a long-term deal. He finally settled on a one-year, $6.67 million franchise tender.
"This is the most comfortable I've ever been," he said. "I was in more pressure in New York. Think about going through five years with no contract and then being franchised and then getting out of being franchised and then seeing what team wants me. I'm here now. I'm where I want to be. There's no pressure now."
Abraham replaces Brady Smith, who wasn't re-signed after injuries limited him to five games last season. The instability at right end made Kerney an easy target of double-teams, and his sack total dropped from 13 in 2004 to 6.5.
With the addition of Abraham, the Falcons again boast big-play potential across the defensive front.
"That makes it that much easier when you have a Kerney and a Coleman and then you bring in a John Abraham," Crocker said. "Quarterbacks are going to be rushing to get the ball off this year because that's a lot of speed up there.
"This team was in the NFC championship two years ago. All we have to do is stay healthy and we feel like we can get back."