Atlanta Falcons starting middle linebacker Paul Worrilow and reserve safety Sean Baker matched each other swing for swing recently in an impromptu home run derby. Coach Dan Quinn, always looking for ways to challenge his players, set up a fence on the practice field. Worrilow and Baker emerged as the top long-ball hitters among a group that included quarterback Matt Ryan, receiver Devin Hester, defensive lineman Ra'Shede Hageman and, representing the coaches, defensive line coach Bryan Cox.
"I don't know how many I hit out," Worrilow said, "but Baker and I went to sudden death at the end of the finals, in which I lost to Baker."
As Baker explained, both he and Worrilow started sudden death with home runs. Then they both missed. Finally, Worrilow failed to clear the fence, and Baker blasted his game winner on the third sudden-death attempt.
"We're just having fun, with the music and the home run derby and all that stuff," Baker said. "It's just a great environment. And you look forward to coming to work every day."
Ryan, who made it to the finals before being eliminated, appreciates the concept behind the competition.
"I love it," he said. "It's an opportunity to get away from football for an afternoon and come together as a team and get to spend quality time with your teammates which, to me, is huge. But it also lets guys showcase what else they can do and allows them to compete in a different environment.
"It doesn't matter if you're shooting baskets or playing home run derby, it's the same thing: You want to win. You want to beat whoever you're going against. We got to see that. Those guys got fired up."
And how did coach Cox fare in the derby?
"Uhhhh," Ryan said while shaking his head to indicate not too well. "Don't tell him I said that."
Quinn, who didn't pick up a bat, is accustomed to creating such a competitive atmosphere as a team-building mechanism. It was the same concept he used in Seattle while serving as the Seahawks' defensive coordinator.
New Falcons LB O'Brien Schofield, a member of the Seahawks the past two seasons, is not much of a baseball guy. But Schofield relishes the basketball competitions in the meeting rooms, where Quinn set up a basketball hoop.
"We'll have a shoot-off usually on Wednesdays, or whenever coach feels like he wants to do it," Schofield said. "He'll match up certain guys and it will be offense versus defense. [Robert] Alford, Willy Mo [William Moore], they've been doing pretty good. [Eric] Weems, he's been pretty good. That's it so far. Some of the guys look mediocre right now.
"But to hear the guys cheering for one another, it's competition and camaraderie. I think that's going to flow over to the field. Once you get an understanding of who you're playing with and how hard they work, I mean, everything just meshes together. It's really forming a mindset: Everything we do, we're going to compete, but you're going to have fun. You do it so much that it becomes second nature. You go into the game and you compete your butt off, and you'll get teams that aren't used to competing like us."
For the record, tight end Tony Moeaki, also a former Seahawk, made a bold statement when asked which players he could beat in a shooting contest.
"Anyone on this team," Moeaki said with a smile. "Undefeated."
In all seriousness, Moeaki echoed Schofield's words about establishing a competitive mindset.
"It just says so much about Coach Quinn really setting the environment and the standard," Moeaki said. "Starting with him and the coaching staff all the way down, they just bring out the best in you. They have fun, but the standard is set so high.
"You're either competing or you're not. Competing is just how we do it."