What we learned from Falcons coach Mike Smith

INDIANAPOLIS — Falcons head coach Mike Smith spoke with the media at the NFL scouting combine on Saturday morning.

Some of the highlights: Ray Edwards had another knee surgery after the season, he’ll stay out of the John Abraham negotiations and he believes that Mike Mularkey will do a great job in Jacksonville.
Q: Where are you all at in the offseason process as you are looking at the players at the NFL scouting combine?

A: First, I beg to differ when talking about the offseason. It think it’s the non-game playing season. Just like for you guys, you haven’t had an offseason yet. We are in the process, like all teams, of building our roster and it starts with free agency. We’ve been through the evaluation process. [We’ve looked at] not only the free agents on our football team, but the free agents across the league. Then the second step is to start the negotiating process. That is something that is going on with the members of our team. When free agency opens . . . [we’ll be ready] like the rest of the teams. We’re here today watching the college guys, the offensive linemen working out. We are looking forward to putting our team together.

Q: Will you get involved in the John Abraham negotiations?

A: I don’t get involved in all of that. All of the guys on our [team] that are free agents . . . have been integral to the success that we’ve had over the last four years. You have to rebuild your team each and every year. Of course, we’d like to keep all of our guys, but you know that the way the process works in this league, it doesn’t happen that way. Each and every year the dynamics are different. You have to build a team for 2012 and that’s what we are trying to do right now.

Q: How is it going with getting all of your new coaches acclimated to Flowery Branch?

A: First, I want to congratulate Mike Mularkey and his opportunity to become the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars. I know that Mike will do a great job there. He was an integral part of the success that we’ve had in Atlanta. But there is an evolution process that goes on in the National Football League. Each and every year there are going to be changes. . . I’m very excited about the additions that we’ve added to our staff. The defensive coordinator Mike Nolan has 14 years as a coordinator and almost 25 years in the National Football League. He’ll be a great resource for me. He’s been a former head coach. I worked with Mike [Nolan] in Baltimore. He’s been successful where ever he’s been. I’m looking forward to presenting a blank canvass so to speak for him, to look at our players and build a defense that will allow our players to be the most successful. Dirk Koetter joins us as the offensive coordinator. Dirk and I worked in Jacksonville for one season, the year that we went to the second round of the playoffs. Dirk is a guy that I have a lot of respect for.

Q: With teams using more sub-defenses, does that change what you look for in defensive players?

A: I think it most certainly does. The game has become more of a spacing game. There are more spread sets. The nickel back over the last four years for us has actually played more snaps than our third linebacker. So a five DB set and even now, more so, you’re seeing six DBs and seven DBs out on the field. That does change things. One of the things that Mike [Nolan] and I talked about when he was joining our staff, was that you’ve got to play to get them to third down. That’s when, for an offensive coach and a defensive coach, it really becomes fun. You’ve got to get them into those third down situations and that’s when you get into situational football. That’s where the game is really played.

Q: When you are in a sub package so frequently, how important is it now to look for a dominant pass rushing defensive end who can disrupt things and help the secondary?

A: That is very important. You saw the team that won the Super Bowl this year and the way that they rotated their defensive line. It’s not always necessarily the sacks that are produced. It’s the pressure that’s put on the quarterback and getting him uncomfortable. The pass rush is very important [to help you] win on third down. Then you’ve got to be able to have guys that can match up with the talented wide receivers and tight ends that are playing in this league right now.

Q: Is there more of a premium on that type of defensive player?

A: Well, I think at the core, you have to control the line of scrimmage. At times you’re going to have to be able to run the football. I think that was evident at the end of the season with the run that the Super Bowl champs had. Even though during the season, statistically they weren’t one of the best running teams. Through the playoffs they were one of the top running teams. You’re going to have to control the line of scrimmage. Whether if that is running the football or throwing the football, it really is going to be dictated on how people are going to try to defend you.

Q: With teams in nickel or dime, 60 to 70 percent of the time, does that evolved into the base defense?

A: Yeah, when we talk about changes and evolution, you can basically almost say right now that your base defense is . . . your [nickel] package. There are more teams playing with six- and seven-defensive backs. You see that more frequently now.

Q: Can you give us an example of what Mike Mularkey did to help Matt Ryan and how that will translate to helping with Blaine Gabbert in Jacksonville?

A: Mike did a great job with Matt Ryan. Matt has a very good skill set, but Mike helped develop Matt especially in our no-huddle offense. We were able to implement that very early on. It became an integral part of what we’ve done over the last four years. Actually, the first time we did it was the second ball game of Matt Ryan’s career. Mike Mularkey and the offensive staff was a big part of that. They were able to implement it, simplify it and compartmentalize it to where we could take it and operate efficiently and effectively very early on.

Q: Is there more pressure on you all now with that 55th pick?

A: I don’t think there is any more pressure in terms of the pick. When you are picking early I think you have a little bit more focus on what is going to be available when you get beyond the 15th pick, some years the 20th pick. When you get into that second round there are a lot more players that may fit into that range. I don’t think there’s any more pressure. What we have to do is our due diligence as a coaching staff and as a scouting staff to make sure that we’ve identified the guys that are going to be available at 55.

Q: Could you talk about the development of linebacker Curtis Lofton?

A: In his first year, he was a two-down linebacker and did not play in our sub-package. The last three years, he’s been a very important cog in our defense on all three downs. He has definitely been the leader of our defense and signal-caller. He’s done a very nice job. Curtis is a very active middle linebacker in terms off his ability to play both the run and the pass. He’s one of the leading tacklers. He’s really developed into a top-level linebacker.

Q: What’s going to be your short yardage strategy going forward? Are you going to remain aggressive?

A: We are going to remain very aggressive. Unfortunately, it’s been well documented that on fourth down we were not as efficient as we needed to be. In the first three years we were. I still have a strong belief in short-yardage and that you should be able to convert. Unfortunately, we didn’t. When it doesn’t work, it’s not a good call. When it works, it’s a great call.

Q: Is there anything in particular that you all can look at in the short-yardage packages?

A: Believe me we do a critical analysis of everything that we do. Fourth down-and-1 was at the top of my list this season, I can assure you.

Q: In light of Grimes’ pending free agency, how did the young corners, Dominique Franks and Christopher Owens, handle the extra playing time down the stretch of the season?

A: Our young corners had to play at the end of the season. Dominique Franks did a nice job. He played our nickel, our fifth [defensive back] and he got a lot of experience. Christopher Owens, because of injuries, had to play as well. Those guys got some experience this season. I think it’s very important as you build a team to get as many guys involved as possible. We did that some by injury and some because of the level of play of the guys in front of them.

Q: (Inaudible: Something on mobile quarterbacks.)

A: I don’t think that they are taking more mobile quarterbacks. I think that what happens is that the feeder system [to] the NFL is producing more mobile quarterbacks, that’s the trend. First and foremost in the National Football League you look for a quarterback that can throw the football. He has to make great decisions. He has to be very accurate with his throws because the skill level of the defenders is very good.

Q: How did [safety] James Sanders play for the Falcons last season?

A: James is one of the 17 free agents that we have. He was a very good addition. [He was] a solid addition for our secondary with his experience. Even though he was a young player, I think he’s in his late 20s, we got him late. He was a guy that joined our football team right before the season started. There was an acclimation period, but when he got a chance to play he performed well. He was a stabilizing factor in our secondary. I really like his makeup and his skill set as a guy that can play both strong and free safety.

Q: How important is it to have versatile defensive linemen?

A: The versatility of all of our players is very important. Corey Peters, of all of the guys was probably the biggest surprise. He was a third round pick out of the University of Kentucky who came in and has played very well for us. He can play both the nose tackle and the three-technique. With our new defensive coordinator I know that we are going to be very multiple in what we do and you want to have players that can line up in different positions. You want to have them across the board. Corey is a guy who can play a number of positions on the defensive front.

Q: How important is it to re-sign special teamer Eric Weems?

A: It will be very important to get all of our guys. I’m not putting any pressure on the people who are doing the negotiations, but Eric Weems has had two outstanding years. He had a Pro Bowl year last year as a special teams player. He is a guy who can fill in [at wide receover.] He is an outstanding special teams player. Not just as a returner, but he’s a guy who will cover punts. This is a young man that has played almost very special teams snap that we’ve had over the last four years.

Q: How did Michael Turner play in the running game for you all last year?

A: I thought Michael had another good year. He’s had two seasons of 1,300 yards or more. I think the thing that we have to do, as Michael gets older, is that we have to start putting him on a pitch-count in terms of his number of carries. Michael has, over the last four years, has been a guy that’s had over three hundred carries. I think it’s very important and we have guys in place [to help out.] . . . Jacquizz Rodgers, who we drafted as change-of-pace back, can help. We found out very quickly that he’s a guy who can play on all three downs. He does a very good job with his blocking. That was one of the things we were concerned about. He’s not a little guy, he’s just a short guy. In terms of Michael, we want to keep him as our feature back but we definitely need to make sure that we get some of the other guys some carries as well.

Q: How important is it to have the change of pace or complimentary back?

A: I think it’s very important. The wear and tear that a running back faces in the National Football League is unbelievable. You’ve got to have guys that can stay fresh and try to penetrate the defensive line. That’s something that both Michael, Jacquizz and Jason Snelling were able to do for us last year.

Q: Could you attribute Ray Edwards’ struggles to the knee injury last season?

A: Ray Edwards, I thought did a very good job for us [against] the run. There was a stretch in the season that he had an issue with his knee. He had a procedure done with his knee. We’re expecting him to be back at full health.

–D. Orlando Ledbetter, The Atlanta Falcons beat blog

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32 comments Add your comment

mike

February 25th, 2012
2:16 pm

I know everyone in the Atlanta press gives Thomas Dimitroff and Mike Smith a pass for some odd reason or another, but they need to be held accountable for the Ray Edwards signing. Didn’t he have surgery last year right after we signed him as well? Hey Thomas, due your due diligence when signing anyone else.

TG

February 25th, 2012
2:31 pm

We have a ton of free agents that, unfortunately, aren’t going to come back next year. I have all of the confidence in Mike Smith and Thomas dimitroff to make the right personnel decisions. IMO Brent Grimes isn’t worth the amount of money he is going to demand. They should take that money and spend on a free agent defensive end or possibly an outside-edge pass rusher or free agent guard/tackle. The NFL has changed into a game of pressuring the QB and forcing him into making bad decisions. The top teams in the league have suspect secondaries but SOLID fron sevens. As for drafting, there are a good amount of prospects that will be available at the #55 spot. TE, OLB, OT, OG??? We shall see. In Dimitroff I Trust! Rise up!

Great Falconi

February 25th, 2012
3:57 pm

Abe wants $12 mil per? See you later, Abe.

Falcon Friend

February 25th, 2012
4:32 pm

DP: Do you have a character? If so what kind of a character are you who makes a statement like you just did to David Ledbetter?

falCANS

February 25th, 2012
5:53 pm

Im glad to see Quizz’s services will be utilized. @ TG, Grimes is a top 5 CB in the league. Sounds like Lofton will be back!!! now just sign Chad Clifton at LT and resign HD and leggo!!!!

AlanFalcon

February 25th, 2012
5:56 pm

Mike o’ Mike, please make your players accountable, if they need a pat on the back find, if they need a kick in the A$$ find but don’t just let them get by if they arn’t performing !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
CALL TOM COUGHLIN IF NECESSARY, LOOK WHERE IT GOT HIM.

TD has no clue!

February 25th, 2012
6:11 pm

Smith has no clue either.

BigHittas

February 25th, 2012
7:29 pm

Without Grimes, there is no secondary.

Frederick(Bailey) Douglass

February 25th, 2012
7:45 pm

Interesting…I’m ok with saying goodbye to Abe. However, if you line up with Turner as your featured back in 2012…then the Falcons are out of touch. Turner should be traded for anything they can get for him. Next year he walks away and you get nothing. This is basic business…UNLOAD HIM.

This Ray Edwards business makes me question Dimitroff. Why sign a player with knee issues? Again…is he in touch with reality?

I like Arthur Blank…but he is no Ted Turner. Not driven. If he were…some of this stuff would not be happening. Really…has anyone seen Turner over the last two seasons? He is a liability! Snelling made the most explosive play of all running backs last year (against the Saints) and they refuse to play him or incorporate him into future planning. I’m starting to get a feeling that a make over is needed…

jerry

February 25th, 2012
8:17 pm

“We are in the process, like all teams, of building our roster and it starts with free agency.”

How long does it take? Well, over four years for some.

vuduchld

February 25th, 2012
8:49 pm

Ahhh, where did the Falcants ended up this past season? Where will they be next season, exactly where they were this past season or worse.

Tell it like it is

February 25th, 2012
8:49 pm

Arthur Blank is in this thing to make money! I’m starting to get the feeling that a make over is needed…2 and 10 vs saints in last 12 games with them.enought said!

hiramsaint

February 25th, 2012
8:58 pm

we also learned he can’t win a playoff game or get a 1st on 4th and inches…over and over again !

Trapper John

February 25th, 2012
9:20 pm

Non-stop political non-speak. Over and over again. Can we get a real football coach in here now? Or are we going to have to waste one more season? Maybe if Smith steps back and turns (the obviously forced!) new hires loose to do their jobs — we can have a shot at a playoff win. Last chance, Coach. Get out of the way and let the new coaches do their jobs!

Chelsea

February 25th, 2012
9:31 pm

Abraham is a perfect example of the rule that if you throw a ton of money at an illiterate thug, all you get is a wealthy illiterate thug. And a Moron.

Run this jerk out of town on a rail.

[...] Atlanta Falcons This entry was posted in Atlanta Falcons and tagged coach, Falcons, from, learned, Mike, Smith. Bookmark the permalink. ← Jim Irsay seizes full control of Colts from Peyton Manning, ready to rebuild with Andrew Luck (Yahoo! Sports) [...]

thouhtful

February 26th, 2012
7:38 am

If the GOAL is to win the SUPER BOWL you must approach this off season with urgency. First you have to sign the FA’s on the team you have to have. Letting Dahl get away last year was a BIG mistake. Edwards Hurt??? You have to resign ABE!! Don’t trust a rookie OL to start if you want to go to the SUPER BOWL. Get 2 mid-level FA Off. Linemen. Get players who can have an impact FA’s. The Draft gas to be approached with getting players who can make an IMPACT NOW! Orson Charles, Brandon Boykin etc. Bring in a couple of tough guys and go outside the Box. Stop playing friends with those current players who arte never going to be an impact. This is Tony Gon last year, Roddy is getting older, Turner is too if the Birds lose in the playoffs next year the fans are going to be Howling! We have to go all out to get in the SUPER BOWL THIS YEAR!

Me Too

February 26th, 2012
8:03 am

The Question: How important is it to have the change of pace or complimentary back?

Should HAVE Read: How important is it to USE the change of pace or complimentary back?

The Falcons in 2011 had two change of pace or complimentary backs but not using them accomplishes nothing.

Frederick(Bailey) Douglas – However, if you line up with Turner as your featured back in 2012…then the Falcons are out of touch.

FBD, you have identified the most important change of all needed changes.

[...] was disappointed to read that Mike Smith indicated that Michael Turner would remain in Atlanta as their feature back. I’m not at all surprised, but nonetheless disappointed. It would have been a bold move to [...]

Me Too

February 26th, 2012
8:13 am

I know it is important to occasionally make a first down on fourth down, but HC Smith’s obsession with it is way beyond what is the real problem. The real problem in 2011 was the lack of production on first down. HC Smith tell us how you will improve first down yardages that are the key to moving the ball down field to score. I am sick and tired of hearing the same crap about the fourth and one misses.

Me Too

February 26th, 2012
8:20 am

Mike Smith’s loosing hand for 2012:
In terms of Michael, we want to keep him as our feature back but we definitely need to make sure that we get some of the other guys some carries as well.

Having him as the featured back has not worked for four years in terms of putting a playoff team on the field. Why will it work in 2012? It is the same offensive scheme that has failed.

pay up

February 26th, 2012
9:07 am

they better pay abraham all the money his camp is demanding or he’ll walk!

Mikey

February 26th, 2012
9:39 am

I thank God every day that Mike Smith is coaching our Falcons and not the fans on this blog. They had an exceptional good group of players last year and will have an even better group this year. The continuous improvement is noticable. Their biggest problem last year was trying to make the players adapt to the system rather than adapting the system to the players. I am optimistic that the new coaches understand that and so does MS.

It actually can take a little time to take a whole organization from the dregs of the earth to the perennial Superbowl winner. I can accept that and still enjoy watching the progress. This team is more on the right track than ever before in history. It sure is a happy problem to have a running back as good as Michael Turner be your key weakness. I’m a fan of a big pass rush and I think that we will see that materialize this year too. I doubt that it will be through one guy as much as through a well designed defense that capitalizes on everyone’s strengths. Go FALCONS!!! RIse UP!

falconsrus

February 26th, 2012
11:10 am

Laughing out LOUD

February 26th, 2012
2:30 pm

Hummmm…strange isn’t it that those who are said to have “no clue” actually have been more successful over four years than any other team of Falcon leadership ever! Go Falcons…Smitty and TD keep doing your job well!

Laughing out LOUD

February 26th, 2012
2:31 pm

If yu are sick and tired of hearing, then quit listening…dummy!

Atlanta Falcons | Skinny Post

February 26th, 2012
8:14 pm

[...] offseason game plan: Finding O-line help key to taking next step 02/25 – sportingnews.com What we learned from Falcons coach Mike Smith 02/25 – ajc.com Falcons Blog Dimitroff says Falcons will “never look back” on cost of [...]

jalex49

February 27th, 2012
9:19 am

Hope the negotiations go well with the free agents Atlanta needs to keep. As far as free agency, two top notch defensive end with play-making abilitywould be great, at least one offensive lineman and a defensive back or running back.

The draft will allow Atlanta to bring in rookies who can contribute over time, but for now, they desperately need proven veteran on the defensive end and offensive line.

Best of luck in the free agency and draft.

Oleg

February 27th, 2012
11:10 am

James is one of the 17 free agents that we have. He was a very good addition. [He was] a solid addition for our secondary with his experience. Even though he was a young player, I think he’s in his late 20s, we got him late. He was a guy that joined our football team right before the season started. There was an acclimation period, but when he got a chance to play he performed well. He was a stabilizing factor in our secondary. I really like his makeup and his skill set as a guy that can play both strong and free safety. Спортивное питание

Flo=Ri-Duh

February 27th, 2012
2:58 pm

Falcons have more holes to fill than a gravedigger. Late round draft picks won’t fill the needs. Free agent signings might help on the OL. They need three replacements on the OL. LT, LG and C. Maybe they will get a LT or LG through free agency and draft a center. Also they need a starting corner if Grimes leaves and help at safety. Don’t forget TWO DE’s.

Barry

February 27th, 2012
3:48 pm

Hey Y’all:

Yes, this is a perfect time to re-evaluate and prepare to develop a SUOER BOWL TEAM with SUPER BOWL running backs, quarterbacks, offensive and defensive linemen, and defensive backs. On our running backs, we got to get BIGGER, FASTER and NASTIER, AGGRESSIVE running backs. Michael Turner, though big, does a hell of a lot of ” TIPPY TOEING” through the line as if he is affraid to get hit. He is “NOT CONSISTANT” game to game in running “HARD and MAD” AGGRESSIVELYat defenses. I look at the GIANTS running backs, and those guys look like they are “ANGRY” when running through those hole. And when they come through they come through “BLASTING”. WHEN THEY GET HIT, THEY JUMP RIGHT UP! I DO NOT SEE OUR RUNNING BACKS DOING THAT. We need a running back coach that can teach that and make sure the backs run like the GIANTS running backs do, on every play, every game. Not just one game. The only running back close to running like that is Snelling. WE NEED TO LOOK AT AGGRESSIVE, YARD HUNGRY, TOUCHDOWN HUNGRY, RUNNING BACKS!!!!

Our receivers, look great!! Matty Ice and the OFFENSIVE PLAYS AND COORDINATOR needs to get them the ball to “MAKE PLAYS” every SUNDYA that get us to the SUPER BOWL!!

Now on the quarterback, Matt Ryan needs to be more aggressive. I hope with the new offensive coordinator and new offense. It will have some innovative, “misdirection type plays” that aggressively allow the quarteback to make good fakes and hit receivers in strive so that they can effectively run after catch (RAC). I hope the new offensesive cooordinators now how to develop and uopdate game plays during game time instead of sticking with what was practiced. Game time decisions were horrible this season. It appeared our offese never adjusted to the changes defenses made. These changes will eveidently determine how Matty Ice will improve this season in getting us to the Super Bowl. Super Bowl or Bust, Baby!!!

Our offensive and defensive line need to get ‘BIGGER, NASTIER, AND POWERFUL. i believ our offfensive linemen played real passive this year. They did not consistantly play AGGRESSIVE, NASTY, SOUTHERN FOOTBALL. they did not intimdate anyone this year. They played to survive the game with no ‘KILLER INSTINCT”. Outside of John Abraham, the defensive line ‘STUNK’ they played no pressure and also “DID NOT INTIMIDATE” any body this season. WE NEED AN INTIMIDATING DEFENSE THAT KNOWS HOW TO “KICK ASS” EVERY SUNDAY AND IN PRACTICE. THEY NEED TO PLAY AND “BE NASTY” EVERY GAME LIKE THE PITTSBURGH STEELERS, GIANTS, AND EVEN SAN FRANCISCO. We need those type players, therefore, GO GET THEM DIMITROFF AND SMITH. Also, play the defense that knows how to get the best out of it’s players to “KICK ASS” every Sunday towards the Super Bowl.

Our defensive backs need to cover and tackle at NASTY level also. They allowed too many big plays as if they are playing in high school. This all goes to coaching. Their defensive back coach must be nasty and intimidating so that these guys can learn fron them. We were too soft in the secondary. Receivers ran around and through our secondary like butter. No one was afraid to get hit. We need an “INTIMDATION FACTOR (S) in the secondary. If not, we will have a difficult time going to the SUPER BOWl, least yet making the playoffs and winning a playoff game. LET’s FIX THIS NOW, NOT LATER. WE HAD ENOUGH TIME AND PLAYERS!!!!!!

Weel yall, that’s my assessment as a “FAN” . I hope that BLANK, DIMITROFF, AND MIKE SMITH are listening. We need to stop the “GOOD OLE BOY” stuff in selecting players and lets put “THE BEST PRODUCT ON THE FIELD” like the GIANTS and other SUPER BOWL contenders. Go to the big and small schools to find the right players for the system we are going to run here in Atlanta. Let’s come up with some “PHIL WHO!!!???” as the Giants fans said when they selected Phill Simms their Super Bowl quaterback back in the day. If not, we will be winning but unable to beat other teams who do not play the “GOOD OLE BOY” game. We need to improve, and after seeing real teams play and make it to the playoffs and the Super Bowl, I see the drastic difference in the type of players, coaches, plays called and owners that win SUPER BOWLS.

Time too make “DRASTIC IMPROVEMENTS” MY FALCONS. TIME TO DO IT IN “ON HEARTBEAT!!!!”

The “PROCESS” continues to the SUPER BOWL. LET’s DO THIS! LET’S DO THIS IN “ONE HEARTBEAT!!!!!!!”

FALCONS RISE UP!!! WE “RISE UP” IN “ONE HEARTBEAT!!!”

SSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
This is a SECRET from a FALCON FAN. TELL EVERYBODY!!!!!!!!!

……………………………………………”ONE HEARTBEAT, BABY!!!”……………

JSS

February 27th, 2012
5:19 pm

That heartbeat needs a pacemaker and a new cardiologist… And that is not a secret!