FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – He knew it would be hard. But maybe he didn’t imagine that it would be this hard.
KAZ NAGATSUKA PHOTO
Japanese wide receiver/kick returner Noriaki Kinoshita is mourning. Not that he can’t play the way he wanted to play. But rather that he’s struggling to even get the ball in his hands.
And Kinoshita, who is trying out for the Atlanta Falcons during the team’s preseason training camp, knows why.
“I can’t be given many chances, because I haven’t really memorized the plays and the tempo (of the camp) is pretty fast,” said Kinoshita, referring to the playbook he received on the day before training camp kicked off, July 27.
“I have a heart that I want to really play, but haven’t been given chances to do so. . . .”
The frustration, of course is natural. After all, Kinoshita is a true competitor.
Kinoshita said he thinks he has to make an extra effort to apply himself, because otherwise the slight chance he has of making the team’s final roster will get even smaller.
“I will never have a sense of urgency,” Kinoshita said. “I just have to create chances by myself, and it comes down to how much I can memorize the plays and how much I can get my name on the depth chart.”
However, making his presence noticeable as one of the NFL’s premier players is no easy task. Kinoshita, who started playing football at age 5 and collected brilliant records as a player, including the national championship and individual awards at Ritsumeikan University, admitted he has been amazed by his new Falcons teammates, players who have shown him great concentration on every play.
“Not that I had not focused in (NFL) Europa,” Kinoshita said, “(but) here you’ve got to have more genuine concentration. It’s really tough to keep concentration on each single play.”
Fortunately, veteran receiver Joe Horn, who switched from the New Orleans Saints to the “Dirty Birds” during the offseason, could become a solid mentor for Kinoshita.
While Kinoshita himself has been a bit disappointed about his training camp performance so far, Horn, although it may be a so-called lip service to the Japanese media, said he was pleased with the way Kinoshita has performed.
“I’m impressed about his (hand-) eye coordination,” Horn said. “He can see the ball and catch the ball and runs well. I like that. That’s true. I did not tell him that he has a long way to go. But so far, that I’ve seen I like him.”
Asked about what the Japanese player has to do at the camp, Horn replied that before everything Kinoshita has to learn the team’s plays and how other players perform. He added that once the Japanese masters the plays, Kinoshita’s athleticism will be showcased.
“Learn what he has to do. Learn the terminologies,” the 35-year-old Horn said, elaborating on practical suggestions for Kinoshita.
“In this league, once you know what you’re doing when plays are called, basically athleticism kicks in. He’s very athletic and catches the ball. So once he understands the plays, I think he’ll be all right.”
Horn, who has racked up 8,501 yards and 57 touchdowns in his 11-year career, said he’d like to reach out and offer advice if Kinoshita asks him questions.
“I care about people, man,” Horn said. “You see a new guy coming in and leave him alone and don’t want to help him out, because his skills may take his spot. No, that’s not what I do.
“Anything you want to know, I give myself to you on the football field and off the football field.”