C-Viv reporting from Flowery Branch.
Here are excerpts of Mike Nolan’s conference call with the Atlanta media Wednesday after being named the team’s new defensive coordinator. The biggest highlight is he does not plan to switch to a 3-4 scheme, saying the team has been built as a 4-3 scheme and that currently works best with the personnel.
Q. Will you switch to 3-4 defense?
A. It’s my philosophy that you build your scheme around the players and not the other way around. What has been built there is a very solid foundation on a 4-3 defense. In my 25 years in the NFL, 14 years as a coordinator, seven of them have been in a 4-3 and seven have been in a 3-4. I’m very familiar with both. When I’ve been in a 4-3 I’ve frequently used the 3-4 as part of it. It would appear to me that is what is best for that football team.
Q. What do you know about team and its personnel?
A. I have limited knowledge. I’ve looked at some of it. I know they have a solid group. Overall, it’s an outstanding football team. They have been in the playoffs three of the last four years. They have a very good quarterback. As a group, Mike [Smith] and Thomas [Dimitroff] have done an outstanding job of putting together a roster. I’m just excited to be a part of it and hopefully add something to the defensive side.
Q. What is your relationship with Mike Smith?
A. Mike and I did work together in Baltimore. … I became defensive coordinator and Mike was the linebacker coach. I think we were together one year before he got the coordinator’s job at Jacksonville and left. … I’ve always had tremendous respect for Mike. I think he’s an outstanding coach. He’s coached some very good players. I think he gets a lot out of his players. He’s an outstanding person. We’ve stayed in contact and remained friends.
Q. You had other options, was it your relationship with Mike that brought you here?
A. It was the whole picture. Knowing Mike has a lot to do with it. I’ve also known Thomas for a number of years, but not near as well as I’ve known Mike. …. Big picture to me looked very good and it still does. … To me it’s a good fit.
Q. The secondary has been an issue. They were 20th in the league. Do you have a philosophy there or a plan to fix it?
A. I haven’t had a chance to look over all the players too much, so I can’t comment on an individual basis. But as a whole, I will say this, I think the secondary today is one of the most important areas today more than it was 15-20 years ago just because of the quarterback play nowadays. There are probably more good quarterbacks in the league than there has ever been. Outside of pass rush, the secondary is where the quarterback attacks you the most. It’s real import to have a good secondary. I’m kind of familiar with some of the guys. I think it’s a solid group but in order to play well it obviously takes 11 guys so you can’t put it all on one position. All I can say is it is a vital part of success nowadays in football. … People always talk about having four starting DBs but I think the future is there are really five starting DBs if these quarterbacks keep doing what they are doing.
Q. Coach Smith said he was looking for a certain skill set in new coordinators. In your case, what you do consider your skill set?
A. I think it really starts with what your philosophy is. The thing I’ve really prided myself on over the years is I’ve been very fortunate to be with some outstanding coaches over the years. … The coaches I’ve worked with have made me better. I hope I’ve made them better. Over my years in the NFL, I would say you build your schemes around your players, not the other way around. From a philosophical standpoint, or a skill standpoint, I’d like to think that I’ve been able to, along with the guys I’ve coached with, been able to do what’s best for the players and in turn for the team, whether that is 3-4 or 4-3, whether that’s more blitzes or less blitzes. Because some players do that well and some don’t. What I mean by that is some blitz well and some don’t. Some are better suited for different things. Outside of that, I believe I’m extremely passionate about what I do. I think the best job in football is coordinating. I’ve been a head coach before and there is a lot of thrill in that. But when you get to put your hands on players and coach them and teach them and see them have success and get to call plays, that’s a great job.
Q. Were you given the option of saying you wanted to coach 3-4 or were you told we are a 4-3 team?
A. When Mike and I watched film, he really asked. He said this is what we’ve built to, this is what we are but he said ‘What do you see it looking like?’ I was curious. It was the first thing I said to Mike is ‘What is your vision for this group?’ Mike was very honest and said we’ve built of 4-3 and this is where we are, what we look like, but I want you to look at it as well. When we were watching film together, he said ‘I can see the wheels turning in your head right now.’ Which they are because when I’m watching it I’m trying to see. But he, at no time, said ‘If you want this, this is what we’ve got to do it on.’ Mike is open-minded about that. But I do believe that the vision for them and the target they’ve been hitting is one we want to stay consistent with it and go forward in that respect. If I felt like it could easily be tweaked to got to something else because I felt it could be better, I would obviously suggest it. But I think the track they’ve been on is a good one. 4-3 or 3-4 is very relevant as long as you are doing what your players allow you to do.
Q. Are you looking for three-down guys?
A. The more three-down guys you can get the better. There is no question about that. These are when guys are talking about who to draft, it’s hard to draft a two-down player in my opinion. In the real high first round, you’ve got to try to get as many three-down guys as you can. Sometimes you don’t. Sometimes it takes years for those guys to develop into three-down players. … The way offenses are tempoing the game, you can’t get that guy on and off the field without a penalty. When an offense is in a hurry-up mode, you can’t send a lot of guys on and off the field so you need as many three-down guys as you can get otherwise you just bite the bullet and leave them out there.
Q. What is your pass rush philosophy?
A. … You are going to play a Cam Newton differently then you are going to play a Drew Brees or a Tom Brady. There is a lot that goes into the pass rush, the pass coverage. But they are so tied together and the success of either one, is so tied together. … I would rather have 10 guys get four sacks then only four guys get 10 sacks each because it’s a lot more difficult for an offense to look at your entire defense and say ‘We’ve got to block them all guys. That guy might come, that guy might come.’ That’s a real stress for a quarterback.
Q. Do you intend to keep the rest of the staff in place?
A. That’s Mike’s area, but it’s my understanding that Mike would like to keep everybody and keep this staff intact.
–D. Orlando Ledbetter, The Atlanta Falcons beat blog