NFL Combine: Mike Smith’s full transcript

I'm looking forward to opportunity to evaluate some of the top prospects that are available in this year's draft. I'd like to say that I was disappointed in our season last year simply because we didn't have the opportunity to make the playoffs.

Falcons coach Mike Smith and vice president of communications Reggie Roberts at the scouting combine. (D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC)

INDIANAPOLIS — Falcons coach Mike Smith spoke with the national media at the NFL scouting combine on Friday.

Some of the highlights included Smith stating that Matt Ryan is recovered from his turf toe injuryand is running again.

He bid farewell to Carolina defensive end Julius Peppers in the NFC South, but didn’t say if the Falcons would pursue him.

Here’s the full transcript:

OPENING STATEMENT: I’m looking forward to opportunity to evaluate some of the top prospects that are available in this year’s draft. I’d like to say that I was disappointed in our season last year simply because we didn’t have the opportunity to make the playoffs.

I like the way that our team finished. We finished strong. We won our last three football games when we were out of contention. I think that bodes well for the future. With that, I’ll open it up for questions.

Q: Could you talk about Tony Gonzalez and what he brought to the team this last year. His veteran leadership and his interaction with Matt Ryan over the course of the season.

A: I think that Tony not only helped our offense, but he helped our entire football team. Tony is a consummate professional in terms of his work habits and how he works. Here’s a guy who’s going to be a first ballot hall of famer and he comes out to work early catching passes. I think that rubs off, not only on the other receivers, but it rubs off on our defense. I noticed some defensive linemen out there spending extra time. I think it was very good for Matt to have Tony, another weapon in our arsenal. I know that our offensive staff was real pleased with what we are able to do with Tony. I think we went from 19 catches from our tight ends to over 100 in year two. I think it opens up a lot for our offense.

Q: In regards to Matt, how is he coming along? Is he going to be able to do most of the offseason workouts? Or, are you guys just going to rest him?

A: We think that Matt will be ready to go on March 22 when we open up our offseason conditioning program. Matt had a significant toe injury there at the end of the season. They talked to us initially about him missing six weeks. He came back in two weeks. I think that says a lot about the type of man that Matt is. He’s a tough guy. We know that playing quarterback in the NFL is one of the most difficult positions. Matt had a very good second season. It was a learning experience. But we don’t anticipate him having any setbacks between now and when we start on the 22nd of March. He’s actually back to running.

Q: Could you talk about your evaluation of the defense, by front line, linebackers and secondary groups?

A: We’ve spent a major part of our offseason evaluating what we do. Watching the cut ups. I felt that as the season wore on, we got better and better on defense. We finished against the run No. 10 in the league. I felt that was something that we improved on immensely as the season went on. We did not play the pass as well as we’d like. It’s something that we definitely have to address. Statistically we were not close to where we need to be or want to be. I think that’s twofold. One, we address the pass rush and number two, is that we improve our secondary play. Those are areas that we definitely will want to address.

I’m pleased with our young corners. Brent Grimes had six interceptions this season. Christopher Owens had an opportunity to play when our starter went down. I think that we have three young corners that can play and can continue to grow, but they are very, very young.

Q: Is that how you prioritize it, 1. D-line and 2-secondary? We’re having a fight online over what’s the highest priority?

A: We’ve got a number of areas that we have to address. In year one, our draft was more titled toward the offensive side of the ball. In year two, we definitely drafted more defense. I think what you will see in the draft this season is that it will be more balanced. We definitely have to address some areas on both sides of the ball as well as our special teams.

Q: In your division, it looks like Carolina is losing Julius Peppers. Could you talk about how it will be facing Carolina without him? And whether he might be a candidate to help your own pass rush?

A: Well, I can tell you this. Having Julius Peppers out of the NFC South will be a good thing. He’s been an outstanding player for a number of years. He’s a guy that you always have to be aware of and where he’s aligned. You always have to scheme to try to protect your quarterback.

Q: As far as, will you guys look at him?

A: (Smitty can’t answer and risk a tampering fine, but does a nice side-step). As far as this year’s free agent class, it is not as deep as usual.. There are not as many numbers. We’ll do our due diligence on every free agent that is available. We’ve been spending a lot of our offseason, not only on the personnel side but also with the coaching staff watching tape.

Q: How are you expecting free agency to play out? What will the environment be like?

A: We will approach it like any other year. We are going to evaluate the players that are available and then it’s going to be up to Thomas Dimitroff and his staff to make those decisions. Our approach as a coaching staff has not been any different this year than any other.

Q: The sophomore slump tag has been put on Matt Ryan by some people . . . How do you rate his performance? Where did you see growth in his overall effort?

A: I saw growth, and we saw growth in everything that Matt did. Statistically, he had more pass attempts in year two. . . . I think that quarterback in this league has to do two things. They have to be very accurate. I think that Matt has done that. He’s improved his accuracy. He’s got to be a very good decision maker. I think he’s done that as well. That decision making process that a quarterback goes through has to happen in the first two seconds of the play. I’ve said this, many times, playing quarterback in the National Football League is the toughest job there is in all of sports.

Q: What do you make of the record 10 passers, who threw for more than 4,000 yards this season? Is this indeed changing into a passing league?

A: Well, I think it’s becoming a spacing league for sure. You are not seeing a lot of two-back running sets. There are a lot of single-back sets. It is a quarterback driven league. I think that you had more 300 yard passing games as well. Of course that makes sense with the number of 4,000 yard passers. I’ve always said that you’ve got to be able to run the football and stop the run. Even though the Indianapolis Colts played in the Super Bowl and were No. 32 in the league in rushing, I don’t know if that’s an anomaly, but if you look at the playoffs I thought that they ran the ball effectively. I really believe this, that the core of it, you still have to be able to run the football and stop the run. I know this, the formations and what offensive coordinators are doing, they are making it very, very difficult because you have to defend the entire 53 and 1/3 yards when they put their formations together.

Tim Tebow at the NFL scouting combine.

Tim Tebow at the NFL scouting combine.

Q: We skipped over the linebacker evals. How did that group play for you and what do you see in reserve?

A: I think it was learning experience for Curtis Lofton. Curtis was our first and second down linebacker as a rookie. He started from day one. In year two, he became a three down linebacker. He was going to go through some growing experiences . . . I thought that Mike Peterson came in and played well for us. Mike is a very experience player. Stephen Nicholas became a full time starter as well. This offseason, we had some youth there in the linebacking corps. I’m very excited about the young guys that we drafted over the last two seasons. Robert James is a second year player that got an opportunity to play on special teams and Spencer Adkins, who was a (rookie from) the University of Miami also played on special teams.

Q: (Inaudible: change in offenses)

A: I really think it affects the way you put your football team together. When you are talking about a spacing offense you . . . . when you have three receivers and running back who can run routes just like a receiver, you’ve got four wide receivers and you have to able to match up. The sub linebacker position is something that I think is evolving and will continue to evolve. Where you normally had linebacker types you are going to see more safeties and possibly even big cornerbacks that will play on those downs. You are going to see much more six and possibly even seven defensive back schemes to match up with the skill players and the level of skill that the offenses are able to put on the field.

Q: When you had a top 5 pick, what were you learning about Matt (Ryan) at the combine? Can you talk about the emotions of debating whether to take a quarterback that high at this stage of the draft process?

A: When you are picking in the first five, you are always going to have some angst. I terms of what direction you are going to go. It become real obvious for us in our experience with Matt Ryan. . . about two weeks before the draft we made the decision that we were going to draft Matt. In terms of what happens at the combine, you get the opportunity to visit with the players. You get the medicals. That’s one of the biggest things that’s overlooked. The medicals and the physical that takes place. They go over the players with a fine tooth comb. We have an idea about their character before coming here to the combine. We’ve spent hours and hours on watching tape. It’s really the interview process and the physicals. Matt did not throw here at the combine. He did have a private workout. At that workout he did show very well.

Q: What made you decide that he was the guy, two weeks before?

A: When you are going through this process, you get input from a number of people. What really sold us was that we went up there as a staff. When I say staff, I’m saying myself, Thomas Dimitroff, our owner Arthur Blank, our offensive coordinator and our quarterback coach. We had dinner with Matt at a restaurant there in Boston. That’s an intimidating thing, to have seven guys and him at the table and Matt handled himself very, very well. Then the next morning we got together and talked football. We put him up on the board and it became real obvious that he had all of the skills that we were looking for to be a successful quarterback in the NFL.

Q: Did he surprise you? You talked about how difficult is to play in the NFL. Was that above and beyond what you were expecting?

A: No. It really wasn’t. Matt’s skill set. Height. Weight. Speed. Arm strength and all of that, I think is the prototypical NFL quarterback. We felt that Matt was going to come in a be a guy that was going to lead our football team. It became real obvious. We had an open competition. Through training camp and after two preseason games I almost felt like the players knew who our best quarterback was. They were like, ‘Coach, that’s our guy. Let’s get him in there and let’s go.’ Sometimes the players know before the coaches.

Q: (Inaudible: Something about the running backs. . .)

A: Michael Turner, I thought had an injury plagued season. He played eight games this year. Jason Snelling came in and did a great job for us. Not only did he play running back, but he played fullback for a couple of games. Jerious Norwood is guy that has given us some good snaps. He’s a guy that, as we were talking about earlier, can create those match up issues. You always want to try to add depth at running back. But that position is a position that takes the most pounding of any position in the league. It’s not a top priority for us right now. But it’s something that we are evaluating.

Q: What’s a big cornerback now days?

A: You would like for them all to be 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds. That’s not a possibility. I think that the average cornerback now is around 5-10 ½, 5-11. When you are able to get guys that are over the average, I think you’ve got a big corner. With the size of the wide receivers that they keep presenting to these defensive guys, it very, very difficult for the smaller guys to compete out there.

Q: Are there fewer bigger cornerbacks than years ago? Are they playing different positions?

A: I think they are playing other positions. I’m a defensive guy. . . Back in the day, as long as the ball wasn’t in the air you could have contact. Now, it’s contact in the first five yards. Really, technically, you can only hit them one time. Maybe you can chuck them twice in those first five yards. It takes great man, motor skills to be able to match the moves of the wide receivers.

Q: What are you hopes for (Lawrence) Sidbury?

A: He needs to continue to progress. He was a small college player coming out of Richmond. I think he’s still learning about the competition in the NFL.

Q: Is (Indianapolis Colts defensive end) Robert Mathis a good comparison for Sidbury?

A: I certainly hope he has the same success that Mathis is having. Mathis played at Alabama State. Their numbers are very similar in terms of height, weight and speed. I think it’s just going to be a continuation of the learning process for Lawrence. I think he’s got an opportunity to learn under a good one in John Abraham.

The Falcons won the toss for the 19th pick.

Here are the 19th picks since 2000:

Gil Brandt, the Godfather of the NFL.(D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC)

Gil Brandt, the Godfather of the NFL.(D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC)

2009: WR Jeremy Maclin, Eagles.

2008: OT Jeff Otah, Panthers.

2007: FS Michael Griffin, Titans.

2006: CB Antonio Cromartie, Chargers.

2005: OT Alex Barron, Rams.

2004: OT Vernon Carey, Dolphins.

2003: QB Kyle Boller, Ravens.

2002: WR Ashley Lelie, Broncos.

2001: NT Casey Hampton, Steelers.

2000: RB Shaun Alexander, Seahawks.

PLUMMER RELEASED: Longtime  Falcons scout Bruce Plummer was terminated by the team in what was determined to be a football decision. Plummer, who’d been with the team for 10 years, was the Midwest scout.

58 comments Add your comment

Blue Fender

February 26th, 2010
12:26 pm

Blue Fender

February 26th, 2010
12:27 pm

OOOOOOOHHHH! I’m so special!

Blue Fender

February 26th, 2010
12:29 pm

I wonder if we packaged JA and CH we could get a 7th rounder?

Marcus

February 26th, 2010
12:30 pm

Anywhere form 3rd – 5th :)

just call me Chris Owens.

Marcus

February 26th, 2010
12:30 pm

Anywhere from 3rd – 5th :)

just call me Chris Owens.

toph

February 26th, 2010
12:32 pm

Pretty nice list for a 19th pick.

ATLJBO

February 26th, 2010
12:32 pm

I found this D.Led

Smith Wouldn’t Mind a Peppers Exit

Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith spoke candidly about Carolina Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers and said that it would be a great thing if Peppers left the NFC South. Smith said that Peppers would be a player of interest for his team and cited that they had issues putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks a season ago.

Magic Man

February 26th, 2010
12:33 pm

DOB

•He gave his ideal size for defensive backs

So, what were they?

Marcus

February 26th, 2010
12:37 pm

I think we go Defense in 1st round, trade some of our compensatory pick(s) and swap draft position with another team to get back into 2nd round for an offensive player.

Sly Ty

February 26th, 2010
12:42 pm

I see another negative post concerning Jamal Anderson, I like Jamal Anderson. JA98 is a good run stuffer at the DE, and DT positions. He was able to put more pressure on QBs from the DT spot. He is better than Peria Jerry at DT at this point. I hope that he is kept to play DT, he was productive at that position. JA98 is more of a 3-4 DE, not a 4-3 DE. He is a good 4-3 DT type player. I trust the Mad Scientist Thomas Dimitroff with whoever he picks at 19, or maybe he trades back, who knows. I trust he will be wise with whatever he does, he has turned us around.

Marcus

February 26th, 2010
12:56 pm

1 vote for Ole Miss Dexter McCluster, if we do move back into 2nd round or if he is still on the board come the 3rd round.

Sly Ty

February 26th, 2010
1:02 pm

Marcus, compensatory picks CANNOT BE TRADED. They are awarded at the end of a given round to a team that has meet the criteria for receiving a compensatory pick. Once a Comp Pick is awarded it cannot be traded. I would not trade JA98 for a low rounder. However, If someone were unintelligent enough to give something for Chris Houston, well I have property in Florida that I need to sell also.

SKYROCK

February 26th, 2010
1:04 pm

J. Anderson JUST MADE A SACK!!!!!!!! oh, wait, Im playing Madden 10. :(

Sly Ty

February 26th, 2010
1:16 pm

Skyrock I never said that JA98 was an excellent pass rushing 4-3 DE, he has value as a run stuffer, and putting pressure on QBs from the DT position. He will never become a great pass rushing 4-3 DE, he is a great run stuffing DE. JA98 is a better DT at this point than Peria Jerry.

blord

February 26th, 2010
1:21 pm

Marcus,
You’re not allowed to trade compensatory picks

D. Orlando Ledbetter

February 26th, 2010
1:22 pm

ATLJOB: You’re ahead of my transcription!!!

MAGIC MAN: Anything over 5-11 is big. Used to be 6-2, 210. Those guys are playing other positions now i.e. safety/linebacker.

ATLJBO

February 26th, 2010
1:31 pm

dang… Mybad..lol

GT97

February 26th, 2010
2:13 pm

Defensive Players are usually hit or miss-get em from free agency. 1st round pick should be based on the offensive side of the ball with speed being the top emphasis whether it is running back or wide receiver. CJ Spiller would be my favorite choice with Jon Dwyer next. Turner will be over the hill in 2-3 years then they would have to have special pants made for him to hold in his Big A$$.

azzhatt

February 26th, 2010
2:25 pm

Balanced draft means no big moves; more small school guys and the wait and see game.

THAT DON’T SELL TICKETS TD!!!

Falkor

February 26th, 2010
2:32 pm

Assuming we keep Norwood and assuming Harry Douglas can return to form we already have everything CJ spiller can offer: speed from the backfield, speed from the slot, and return ability. He will probably have an above average NFL career, but we need a playmaker on defense more than anything. I’m fine with DE, OLB or CB as long as it is someone who can create big plays and someone who ends up being worth a 1st round pick. AKA NOT JA98.

Falkor

February 26th, 2010
2:37 pm

I believe we have as much youth and talent as any team in the NFL, and I believe in our coaching staff’s ability to develop and harness that talent. Not to mention their ability to scout and work in cohesion with Dimitroff to have another productive year in the draft. All the mocks I have seen show that we have an ability to get more young talent with the 19th pick, and the fact we picked Lofton in the 2nd round is further proof. I know they will pick smartly, and if Spiller happens to be there at 19 I believe the best move is to TRADE DOWN with someone who wants & needs him much more than we do.

D. Orlando Ledbetter

February 26th, 2010
2:51 pm

About to post the entire transcript (edited version). Just want to get something out there for you all to much on.

ATLJBO

February 26th, 2010
3:06 pm

DOL

Do you think Peppers is an option ?

Tale of Woe

February 26th, 2010
3:11 pm

Either your knowledge or writing stinks – Q: What do you make of the record 10 passers, who threw for more than 10,000 yards this season? Is this indeed changing into a passing league?

Do you mean for a career or the season/. I thought the record passing yards in a season was around 5000 (just going off of memory)….

Willy

February 26th, 2010
3:14 pm

Weird; it seemed like everybody, myself included, knew that the Falcons would win that toss. It was this strange matter of factness about it. I have no idea why. Maybe just people getting used to winning things, and then only getting the flip of a coin.

Falkor

February 26th, 2010
3:15 pm

It’s actually 10 QB’s threw for 4,000 + yards this year.

ernisTbass

February 26th, 2010
3:19 pm

Peppers would be to the Falcons what Derek Lowe is to the Braves, I like Lowe but that money sure would have come in handy elsewhere

Jack

February 26th, 2010
3:26 pm

First of all trade or cut Jamal, not sure if I agree he is better than Peria. First Peria was a rookie and Jamal has been here for at least 3 unproductive years. Secondly Peria was injured so you can not really compare him to Jamal if he is not on the field. Even if Peria was a water boy he would be more productive than Jamal. Sorry

Jack

February 26th, 2010
3:29 pm

Would love to have Peppers if the money is right. Also I hope Douglas comes back and is productive.

blord

February 26th, 2010
3:35 pm

Mike Smith said in the article, “Stephen Nicholas became a full time starter as well.” He just game a statement of fact but didn’t praise Nicholas’ play as a starter when given the opportunity. I wonder if this means that he wasn’t satisfied with Stephen’s play?

The Real Falcon

February 26th, 2010
3:39 pm

We need to sign D. Sproles who is not being re-signed by San Diego!

The Real Falcon

February 26th, 2010
3:41 pm

Smith:”We address the pass rush and number two, is that we improve our secondary play. Those are areas that we definitely will want to address.”
See at least Smitty knows it starts with the DL.

Ted M

February 26th, 2010
3:43 pm

please list the contracts for 19th picks since 2000 too. thanks

WJ

February 26th, 2010
3:46 pm

Peppers will not be playing in Atl. He is going to demand too much money-like A. Hayneworth last year. Blank isn’t going to pay what Peppers will command in salary. Kiss that thought of him in Atl. good-bye.

WJ

February 26th, 2010
3:50 pm

I do think that the Falcons will spend free agent money on defense but not to extent of Peppers demands. They will pick up quality defensive players who are good but not great but when playing as a team will make the team more productive. I think they are looking for a good pass rushers if price is right.

WJ

February 26th, 2010
3:51 pm

Has everyone gone for the day?

WJ

February 26th, 2010
3:51 pm

Could it be that I’m Last? Does this equate to being first?

Jack

February 26th, 2010
3:53 pm

Totally agree Blank is not one to spend money just because he can

WJ

February 26th, 2010
4:15 pm

Oh goodie-Last-last-last-last!

Falkor

February 26th, 2010
4:35 pm

I’d say more, but there’s no one left to say it to.

I do have to point out that even when used in sarcasm “goodie” just doesn’t come across well….

Jack

February 26th, 2010
4:38 pm

Who else is out there that can help us get more sacks, other than peppers

Without-a-clue

February 26th, 2010
5:03 pm

Would the last one out turn off the lights? Thank you.

Hamad Meander

February 26th, 2010
5:30 pm

Exactly – we have a couple of nice young cornerbacks. No need to add another one to the mix. I think a nice set of cornerbacks could look really good with a better pass rush. I’m not sure who will be there at #19 that would be a good fit. I would not be unhappy to trade down and find a 2nd round and another 3rd round pick.

JR

February 26th, 2010
5:32 pm

i don’t think that jenkins is skillfull enough to play offense. too many dropped balls. does he have the speed and maneuverability to play the defensive secondary? his size woild be an asset.

B Smith

February 26th, 2010
5:47 pm

I know this is waaaaaay off subject but ummm… Robert Mathis played at Alabama A&M University (NOT Alabama State)… Thanks Mike

Football Fan

February 26th, 2010
5:49 pm

I think it’s spelled “Maclin”

Hamad Meander

February 26th, 2010
5:59 pm

I’m ready to see something nasty in the linebacker department. What if Rolando McClain runs a 4.7 at the combine and drops to #19? The dude plays fast on the field. The Texas linebacker Kindle is pretty nice looking as well – 6′4″ 255 lbs. He fits better in a 3-4 though.

I hope that if we go defensive line, that we get a proven commodity. Maybe free agency is a better place to find defense this year.

Jack

February 26th, 2010
6:02 pm

Jenkins is a flop after all he went to The Ohio State University

D. Orlando Ledbetter

February 26th, 2010
6:10 pm

Tebow had a huge crowd around him. The most at the combine since Maurice Clarett and Bill Belichick last season.

Drills start tomorrow.

Georgia Tech running back Jonathan Dwyer didn’t make it to the interview room today. Hopefully he’ll stop through tomorrow.

Sly Ty

February 26th, 2010
6:58 pm

Jack, JA98 and Peria Jerry are the same age despite JA98 being in the league for 3 years. JA98 is clearly better right now than Peria Jerry. PJ was boarderline pathetic at stuffing the run, bef ore he got hurt. The run Defense improved once he was out. It is easy to beat up on JA98, he can’t rush the passer as a 4-3 DE, but he does stop the run, and he did a good job of pressing the pocket from the DT position. He is a far better DT than Jerry. Also, Jack you mentioned Jerry was injured so you couldn’t compare the 2 of them, that is kinda the point, PJ has a long history of dealing with injuries, so you do need to be mindful of the fact that JA98 is out there helping his teammates, while PJ is in the whirlpool collecting a paycheck.