senior analyst Pat Kirwan visited Falcons training camp and filed this report on our man On The Fringe, Coy Wire.

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Everybody loves the Rocky story. The guy against all odds who makes it.

The Falcons have their Rocky in a linebacker named Coy Wire. When I was with the Jets, we had Wayne Chrebet, who defied all odds to make the team and went on to have a great career. Wire is an inspirational young man, maybe too slow to be a safety and maybe too small to be a linebacker. He is in the second week of camp, and after talking with front office people and coaches, Wire’s journey continues the steady climb to the final roster.

As I watched Wire practice as the second-team weak side linebacker on base defense and the second-team ‘backer in nickel defense, it doesn’t look like he is pushing the starters to break into the first group, but it is clear that he will make this team. As I watch Wire practice, he reminds me of Larry Izzo, an undersized linebacker who started his career in Miami, got signed in New England to be a core player on special teams and in a pinch plays linebacker.

One Falcons executive called Wire “Izzo plus,” because he feels Wire will deliver the same production Izzo brings on special teams, but may have a little more as a linebacker. Time will tell if that assessment is accurate, as Izzo enters his 14th NFL season. Wire enters his eighth season and looks better now than he did as a backup safety in Buffalo, where he played after graduating from Stanford.

Wire is a core player on the special teams, which means he is going to be on the field for close to 30 plays a game. I knew he would make the final 53-man roster when I watched him work as the personal protector on the punt team. The “PP,” as he is known, is the quarterback of the all-important special teams unit and Wire looks like a very good “PP.”

As for Wire’s linebacker duties, a week ago he was considered the first ‘backer off the bench if there was an injury, but the recent signing of veteran Jamie Winborn puts the first backup role in some jeopardy. Two weeks into camp, Wire can back up the “Sam” or “Will” linebacker spots, but he may really be the fifth ‘backer on the depth chart. As for taking on NFL offensive linemen, Wire’s ability to leverage a blocker and guide a runner to the other ‘backer needs work. It is tough up at the line of scrimmage for a guy barely six feet tall.

Wire could play a more prominent role in nickel defense, because of the coverage skills he learned playing safety in Buffalo. He can match up with a second tight end or zone off a slot receiver, and in a pinch, he could make the nickel package calls because he has solid football intelligence.

Falcons fans will see Wire on the field making tackles on special teams. However, unless there are a few injuries to the linebackers, he will be on the sidelines, ever ready to step on the field and help this Atlanta defense stop its opponent. There is a tremendous amount of trust from the organization that Wire makes them better. His roster spot appears secure, even at the expense of releasing a young linebacker with more potential, but less to offer the 2009 team. If I were to put Wire’s preseason on a line graph, it would be a steady and slow rising line that will never peak at the top but will never dip to the bottom.

Pat Kirwan