Originally created 08/07/99

QB Kanell brings depth to Falcons

GREENVILLE, S.C. -- How odd is this: If Danny Kanell wins the Falcons' backup quarterback job, he will be replacing his former position coach with the New York Giants, the same man who is now his position coach with the Falcons.

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The position coach turned backup quarterback turned position coach again is Steve Deberg, who coached Kanell his rookie season in New York. Now Kanell is here at Furman University, having signed as a free-agent in March, looking to fill the position that DeBerg played so adroitly. Kanell and third-year quarterback Tony Graziani are battling to back up Chris Chandler.

"I coached him as a rookie, but his head was probably spinning so much that he doesn't remember much," DeBerg said. "Danny's played for two seasons, so he understands the speed of the game and how fast everything happens.

"You can see just how much he's progressed with his technique and his approach to the game. He's got a better sense of belonging now than he did then."

Kanell spent three tumultuous years in New York, being hailed as the savior and the scrub, usually in the same half. He became the Giants starter six games into the 1997 season when Dave Brown pulled a pectoral muscle. Kanell rallied the G-Men to a win over Dallas that afternoon, then became the toast of New York when he led them to the NFC East title.

"I thought I was churning along; we were winning going 7-2-1 and we made the playoffs (in 1997)," Kanell said after the Falcons' morning practice Friday.

"When you win in New York, everybody loves you."

And when you lose, take cover.

Starting the first 10 games a year ago, the former Florida State star slumped along with the rest of his teammates, and after a 3-7 start, he was benched by coach Jim Fassel in favor of Kent Graham.

"Did I get a fair chance? Well, I think I got a quick hook," Kanell said.

Said DeBerg: "He was in the beast. He didn't play as well as he did the year before, and everybody came down on him hard. He probably has some thicker skin because of it."

Kanell knew his stay in New York was doomed when the Giants threw bags of money at troubled quarterback Kerry Collins. So the free agent explored opportunities in Miami, Detroit, Seattle and Tampa Bay before signing a two-year deal with the Falcons for $2.1 million.

Here he is reunited with Dan Reeves, who drafted him in the fourth round in 1996, and with the 45-year-old DeBerg, who is 20 years his elder and a 17-year NFL veteran.

"It just made sense for me to come here because I knew Dan and Steve and those guys knew me," Kanell said. "I had this system for a year, and this camp has been about me re-learning everything."

He also knows that as the Falcons' No. 2, the chances of seeing action are a great possibility. Chandler has yet to complete a season in 12 years without seeing time on an injured list. A year ago, a separated left shoulder kept him out of the loss to the Jets, and a sprained knee kept him out the win over the Rams.

"With one snap, I could be the starter," said Kanell, who threw 11 touchdowns in each of his two seasons as a starter. "I know I've got to be totally ready to take over if something happens to Chris."

Bringing Kanell into the mix also gives the Falcons a quarterback for the future. His presence is one reason why Reeves didn't draft a quarterback in April, and one reason why Reeves is no longer scouring quarterback lists to find some position depth.

"Chris is not getting any younger," Reeves said of his old 33-year-old Pro Bowl player. "Whenever the day arises that he decides that he's through with football, we want to have a young guy like Danny in place to take over. He's got the experience of starting 20 games. It's not often you're able to sign a player like that to a backup role."

He also provides a third for Chandler and DeBerg golf outings. All three played in the Celebrity Golf Association's championship in Lake Tahoe, Nev., where Kanell shot 82-89-81 and received much grief.

"Yeah, they've been on me for that for a while now," said Kanell, who claims a 6-handicap. "Every now and then, I'll take their money. But mostly, I'm paying up."

Right now, his biggest hurdle is the mental gymnastics of being a backup.

"The biggest part about this job is the preparation," Kanell said. "Mentally, being a backup quarterback is tough. You've got to prepare yourself to play each week when you know you might not. You don't get the reps in practice, you're not the focus of the coaches. But still, if you're not ready to play, you could let the whole team down if your number does get called."

INJURY UPDATE: Receiver Chris Calloway needed crutches and a soft cast to walk around the Furman complex Friday, a day after suffering a high ankle sprain when Ray Buchanan rolled on his left leg. He could be lost as much as four weeks, leaving his status for the season-opener in jeopardy.

"I've never had an injury like this before, so how quickly I return depends on my healing process," Calloway said. "The doctors tell me I should be able to walk on it in about a week."

DE Chuck Smith missed his fourth day of practice with a strained big toe. LB Henri Crockett jammed his right foot and has been out for three days. Rookie receiver Eugene Baker, one of the candidates to fill in for Calloway, pulled his groin.

BRING ON THE JAGS: It seems everyone in Falcons camp is looking forward to hitting someone new, and the Jacksonville Jaguars couldn't be coming at a better time. The Jags will practice with Atlanta in two separate practices today, starting at 8:15 a.m. and 2:15 p.m.

"When you go against the same people for a week now, you tend to lose you focus and sharpness," coach Dan Reeves said. "Last year we went down there and set our first tone of the season. That's what we need to do (today)."

There will be no tackling, and Reeves said it would be "like playing flag football."

The Falcons and Jaguars meet for real Nov. 7 in Atlanta.

FILM STARS: HBO's Inside the NFL producers were at practice Friday, pulling players to film commercials for the hour-long show. Morten Andersen had the funniest bit, as he was asked to throw his helmet in disgust and walk away.

Rick Dorsey can be reached at (706) 823-3219 or rdorsey@augustachronicle.com.


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