CENTERVILLE — Jamaal Fudge was giving a thoughtful answer to a question about the Atlanta Falcons’ success last season when St. Louis cornerback Tye Hill walked by.
“But for us to turn it around after the season we had before, it just feels pretty good,” the Falcons’ safety said before seeing Hill, then adding loud enough for Hill to hear, “better than these guys.”
After a dismal, forgettable 2007 season, it’s true. Any member of the Falcons can brag about being better than the Rams, which is something not many people predicted before the 2008 season. In fact, the Falcons can brag about being better than a lot of teams in the NFL last season as they were one of the true feel-good stories in the league by overcoming coaching problems and a notorious quarterback situation.
Fudge, however, wasn’t around for any of that. The former undrafted free agent had just been cut by Jacksonville early last season when a familiar voice wound up on the other end of the phone.
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Falcons head coach Mike Smith, who had worked with Fudge as the Jaguars’ defensive coordinator prior to coming to Atlanta, wasted little time convincing Fudge to take a chance on the Falcons.
There was little convincing that needed to be done, actually. Fudge jumped at the opportunity to play again for Smith.
“I did, because I was already familiar with his system,” Fudge said during Saturday’s “Breakfast with the Stars” event at the Golden Corral in Centerville. “I think we had a pretty good relationship. It was unfortunate that (Jacksonville) let me go, but I just ended up on a good team.”
Good might be an understatement considering what the Falcons accomplished on the heels of one of the worst seasons in franchise history. Atlanta managed to go 11-5 in Smith’s first season, taking a run at the NFC South title and sneaking into the playoffs with a wild-card spot.
The Falcons ended up losing to the Arizona Cardinals, the eventual NFC representative in the Super Bowl, in the wild-card round.
Although Fudge was a new addition to the team after the season had already started, he wasn’t surprised at the amount of success the Falcons had despite appearing to be in a rebuilding phase.
“As you tend to go along in practice, you see the capabilities of your teammates, the mentality of the team, the resiliency, fighting through all year,” Fudge said. “Just the coaching staff — I’ve been with the coaching staff for quite some time, and I understand Coach Smith’s mentality and what type of person he is, so I really didn’t expect anything but a really good, productive season.”
Fudge is hoping to be a part of that continued success, but he will have to get a new contract first. Fudge was signed only for last season and will be considered a restricted free agent when the free agency period starts Friday.
Fudge’s status means that the Falcons have the right of first refusal should another team go so far as to make an offer for Fudge’s services. Fudge, however, is hoping his abilities on special teams and his 13 tackles in a reserve role are enough for the Falcons to bring him back
“I would like to (be back in Atlanta long-term),” Fudge said. “I’d like to stay with the coaching staff. I like the environment, so I would love to be there a couple more years.”