Down at the league meetings in Palm Beach, Fla., our good pal Alex Marvez from the Late Hits show on SiriusXM NFL radio caught up with Falcons head coach Mike Smith on Wednesday.
In the interview, Smith talked about the new coordinators, the team’s leadership and how he expects Sean Weatherspoon to step into the void created by the departure of linebacker Curtis Lofton.
Under former defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder the Falcons regularly went with a 3-3-5 alignment on third downs. That didn’t work out too well as they couldn’t mount a consistent pass rush nor cover all zone sectors in coverage. The team finished ranked 29th in third down efficiency last season.
Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan has played both the 4-3 and 3-4 alignments and Smith again alluded to the fact that they will be more “multiple” under Nolan. (Beat Writer’s Translation: Expect some 3-4 derivatives on third downs.) That will be something to watch when the rookie camp convenes a couple of weeks after the draft and later this summer during the OTAs and minicamp.
Here’s a transcript of the interview:
MARVEZ: You have two new coordinators coming in. Talk a little bit about the impact that you are hoping that will (have)on what is already a very good football team.
SMITH: We are very excited about the additions to our coaching staff. On the defensive side of the ball we have a new defensive coordinator in Mike Nolan, who’s got 14 years experience as a coordinator and 24 years in the NFL as an assistant coach. Mike is a guy that I worked for in Baltimore, so I have a very good understanding of what he brings to the table. Mike is going to bring a new dynamic to our defense, giving it s some flexibility in terms of being a little bit more multiple with his background in the 3-4 defense. He’s a very good third down coach in terms of his third down efficiency. He’s got great packages so I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do with our roster.
MARVEZ: What about on the offensive side of the ball?
SMITH: Dirk Koetter joins us from Jacksonville. Dirk was a very successful college coach at Arizona State. (The) vertical passing game is probably the thing that he is most strong in and it’s something that we want to work on. We feel like that we want to get the ball down the field a little bit more with our two wide receivers and our tight end. Dirk has brought in a new perspective. One thing about when there is change, you get a new evaluation of your roster from the outside. I think that’s a healthy, positive thing.
MARVEZ: Mike, how do you reflect on the 2011 season? You make the postseason, which is a positive, unfortunately, the season ends a little bit too soon for the Atlanta Falcons.
SMITH: I think it was a very inconsistent season for our organization. I don’t know that we ever got into the routine that we would have liked to have gotten into. It was kind of back and forth. I think that is something that we have to address moving forward. Then again, you want to be peaking at the right time, as you know, December and January is when you want to be playing your best football. Unfortu-nately, we haven’t done that. We haven’t played as well as we need to in the postseason. That’s something that starts with me and we have got to look at how we prepare our guys and get our guys ready to go.
MARVEZ: (Intor to question) Where is the locker room leadership right now on your team?
SMITH: Well, I think we have a great leadership group in our locker room. We’ve got a number of what I call mentors. On the offensive side of the ball you’ve got Tony Gonzalez. We were able to sign Todd McClure back (on Tuesday) which I think is a very positive move for us in terms of leadership. You’ve got Michael Turner and Matt Ryan. So, I think offensively we’ve got a number of guys that know how we do things in Atlanta and (know) what we’re looking for. Defensively, (we’ve) got John Abraham back on the defensive line. We lost Curtis Lofton in free agency so there is going to have to be a void filled there, but I think Sean Weatherspoon is ready to step into that role. Sean is a very verbal player and well –respected even though he’s only been in the league two years.
–D. Orlando Ledbetter, The Atlanta Falcons beat blog