When Eric Weems started to develop as a special teams player during his second NFL season (2008), he remembered the three words emphasized by Atlanta Falcons special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong.
"Run, run, and run," Weems said. "Those were his favorite three words and the only words he ever preached."
Six years later, Weems continues to run and continues to make an impact.
"I think what makes him unique is the multiplicity that he has on special teams," Falcons coach Mike Smith said of Weems. "He's a guy who can cover. And he's also a guy, if we didn't have Devin Hester, would be the guy we would potentially have at returner. And that's unique to have a guy who can go down and play gunner on punt and then turn around and be the punt returner.
"And he made a play last week. He caused a fumble and recovered a fumble. He's got a lot of background on special teams."
Weems, 29, entered the NFL in 2007 as an undrafted free-agent out of Bethune-Cookman. He spent his first four seasons with Atlanta, primarily as a kick returner, and once set the NFL record for the longest kickoff return in playoff history with a 102-yard score. Weems amassed 3,711 return yards and earned a Pro Bowl trip (2010) during his first stint with Atlanta before playing the past two seasons with the Chicago Bears.
Yes, he still has the itch to return kicks, but understands he has the greatest return man of all-time in front of him in Hester.
Weems has a variety of roles on special teams now, with one in particular being more difficult than the others. He is the personal protector on punts, which is the last line of protection for the punter.
"The responsibility is actually pretty difficult because you've got to get the protection right and you've got to get guys in the right position to block certain guys," Weems explained. "And you've got to make it count right. You've got to make sure guys counter right so you won't have any leakage in the holes and get the punt blocked. Most of the time, that's how punts get blocked -- when guys don't get that count right. I'm the man that's back there making the calls and making sure everything is in the right place."
The Falcons got a punt and field goal blocked during a preseason loss at Houston on Aug. 16. It's no coincidence Weems was signed shortly thereafter.
"You've got to have leaders that get young guys to come on, because nowadays, young guys don't know what it's like to be on special teams," Weems said. "Everybody wants to be a starter on offense, a starter on defense. Sometimes, the best way to go is special teams. That's going to get you on the field to play offense or defense. Sometimes, coaches see you making plays on special teams and they say, 'Oh, we may need to use him on offense or defense.' That's the mindset you have to have.
"You've got to make it a mentality before it's reality."
The easiest part of Weems' job might be blocking for Hester.
"It's amazing blocking for Hester," Weems said. "Knowing you've got a guy back there who can take it to the house at any time, you've got to love it. You've got to want to block for him."
Weems did the same in Chicago before Hester had a mutual parting and joined the Falcons. Weems was released by the Bears, although he could have filled the void as a return man left by Hester.
But Weems holds no ill-feelings toward the Bears as they come to the Georgia Dome on Sunday. He is, however, very aware of their return situation.
"They're struggling," Weems said. "They're bringing in returners every week. Yeah, I miss returning. But I know my role and I get my role. Once you get to that point where you know your role and you get your role, everything else just comes natural."