New Atlanta coach Jerry Glanville chooses his words carefully when the subject is Aundray Bruce, the Falcon linebacker who has come remarkably close to blowing his career in less than three years in the NFL. "Aundray Bruce has ability," Glanville says slowly, so that every syllable is understood. "And he has potential. Those things the Lord decides. Now every player has to bring something else to the party. That's the case here. Everything he possesses right now has been given to him. Now it's his turn to do something."
That's it? No compliments? "False praise turns your cream sour," says Glanville.
The first player chosen in the 1988 draft, the 6'5", 248-pound Bruce has done little to earn anyone's respect, on or off the field. He has had three agents in the 29 months since he turned pro. In the conservative defensive system of former Atlanta coach Marion Campbell, Bruce strained to free himself to rush the passer, the part of his game that made him an All-America at Auburn. In between bouts of fighting the system—"I don't know the scheme, and I probably will never, ever learn it," he said in '89—Bruce collected only 12 sacks all told in two seasons. In the past off-season, two paternity suits were filed against him, he was sued for failing to make payments totaling $912,000 on two home mortgages, and he allegedly threatened a pizza deliveryman with a BB gun.
Bruce pleaded no contest to one count of disorderly conduct. His punishment was a year's probation, 32 hours of community service and a $650 fine. After he failed to show up for part of the community service, he was ordered to spend three Saturdays with a Gwinnett County (Ga.) road crew. He appeared as ordered, picking up litter on highways. Finally, in training camp last month, defensive coordinator Doug Shively ordered Bruce from the field for not practicing at full speed. Bruce left, but not before shoving Shively, who slapped Bruce on the helmet. They shouted at one another, then Bruce walked away.
Bruce refuses to comment on any of these incidents, but he has plenty to say about his stalled football career. The Falcons plan to use him as the weakside outside linebacker in their 3-4 defense, and he'll move to right end in some nickel formations. Both are prime pass-rushing slots.
"This year I feel like I'll finally get to showcase my talents," he says. "When I got drafted, the Falcons told me I'd be rushing the passer. I got here, and I was doing some rushing, but I was dropping into coverage, too, covering Roger Craig and Jerry Rice and Al Toon. Ridiculous. My strength is rushing the passer, and coach Glanville is going to let me do that. His defense is tailor-made for me."
Glanville demands production from his players, and Bruce, who did not start the last three preseason games, had better produce. "All I ask for is my chance," says Bruce. "I'll take over from there, believe me."
Bruce has become a regular on the sidelines.