With OTA's coming to a close and mandatory mini-camp opens its doors, players all around the league know that its make or break time, as they can be sent home any day. I got the opportunity to talk with a young man going through this process this offseason with hopes of joining the 53 man roster of the Atlanta Falcons.
Will Ratelle, at 5ft10, 255lbs, is a current FB on the Atlanta Falcons' roster. Ratelle played ILB for the University of North Dakota and led the defense with 110 tackles, 4 sacks, 1 interception, and 1 forced fumble earning his way to 1st Team All Big Sky. Will Ratelle gained notice at his pro day running a 4.54 40 yard dash, 36 reps on the bench press, and a 36 inch vertical leap, which all would've placed in the top 10 of linebackers at the combine. Ratelle signed as an UDFA to the Atlanta Falcons May 5, 2016.
I reached out and Will found some time to sit down and answer my questions about the rookie experience and some insight into the Falcon's camp.
Q: The first thing that jumps off the page is your athleticism. With the excellent pro day numbers, that would've been third in the 40 [yard dash], first in the Bench Press, and fifth in Vertical Leap at the combine, how do you feel your athleticism has translated to the NFL? What about your athleticism are you most confident in? What are you working to improve the most?
A: I think even though my 40 time was relatively fast, my speed on the field surprises people. I think it is because of the build I have, I'm short and stocky, and at 255lbs people don't expect me to move as well as I do. So from that aspect I feel like it has benefited me on the field being able to get out of my fullback stance and running routes into the flat. I am always working to get stronger and faster. Building strength is the most basic physical adaptation, but its is also the most important and will help with all other athletic qualities.
Q: When I think UND, I think hockey power house. What about the UND Football program attracted you? Did you have any other offers? Tell us about your time at UND and what the team and coaching staff did the most to prepare you for the NFL?
A: Well out of high school I didn't have many offers and the UND seemed like a good place for me. Grand Forks in only a four and a half hour drive from my hometown and I thought it was a nice campus with a good program. After my sophomore season we had a coaching staff change and the new staff did a great job of setting a standard for how they wanted the program to be viewed as. I really wasn't thinking about the NFL too much until the middle of my senior season when more and more scouts started coming around and it started to seem more realistic.
Q: From the tape I've seen you have an incredible skill set at the linebacker position, yet you are listed at FB for the Atlanta Falcons. What influenced your decision to play FB in the NFL and do you think their is a chance to move back to linebacker?
A: Every team that came to meet me told me they see me as a full back. Being only 5'10'', not many opportunities are out there at linebacker so I have embraced the change to the other side of the ball. I don't expect to ever play linebackers again, but asked I would be more than willing. At the end of the day, its football. It's still the same game and you do whatever you can to get on the field.
Q: How is learning an NFL playbook?
A: I struggled with it in the beginning but now that I've been here a month things are starting to click. The terminology on offense and defense are completely different from defense. You have to listen to the full play call and decipher which words pertain to you so you can do your job at the snap of the ball.
Q: Which player(s) on the Atlanta Falcons have impressed you the most?
A: Three guys come to mind. Pat DiMarco, Paul Worrilow, and Devonta Freeman are all competitors and work hard no matter what they are doing. The three of them set good examples of what it takes to be a successful NFL contributor.
Q: What is done in the downtime between all the OTA's? What teammate have you bonded with the most?
A: Most of the day is taken up with football, so when you get the chance to relax you take it. At nights you always have to go over film and the playbook so you are prepared for the next day. I wouldn't say I've bonded with anyone but I try to learn as much as I can from Pat DiMarco so I observe him and ask him questions. He has been very helpful in converting me to fullback.
Q: How is the competition? Being a UDFA rookie is an uphill battle, what is your gameplan to separate yourself from the pack and show you are the best fit for this team?
A: The competition is a major step up from college. I think the biggest difference is the size of the players. My game plan to make the roster is to find every competitive advantage that I can. Whether it be staying late to work on something on the field, finding more efficient ways to learn, getting help from as many people as I can.
Q: One more question for you Will, when preseason rolls around what can we expect from #39?
A: You can expect that I am going to play as hard as I can and not worry too much about the outcome. The process is more important.
I want to thank Will for taking the time to answer my questions. It is always great to get an inside look at the process to making an NFL team. Best of luck to you, drink some water, the Georgia heat is no joke.