Atlanta Falcons: Weatherspoon expected to fill void

Eagles quarterback Michael Vick (7) fumbles the ball, stripped by Falcons linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (56). (Jason Getz / jgetz@ajc.com

Eagles quarterback Michael Vick (7) fumbles the ball, stripped by Falcons linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (56). (Jason Getz / jgetz@ajc.com

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.

Click for the link to the audio file.

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:

Mike Nolan, Mike Smith and Dirk Koetter. (Curtis Compton/Ccompton@ajc.com)

Mike Nolan, Mike Smith and Dirk Koetter. (Curtis Compton/Ccompton@ajc.com)

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?

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan will be throwing more deep passes under new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter. (Jason Getz / jgetz@ajc.com)

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan will be throwing more deep passes under new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter. (Jason Getz / jgetz@ajc.com)

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

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173 comments Add your comment

gb

March 29th, 2012
10:56 am

Larry

March 29th, 2012
10:57 am

Lofa will be your new defensive leader

PMC

March 29th, 2012
11:06 am

The clear leader will be Spoon if healthy. I just don’t see how they expect to be more proficient vertically when the team has never been able to protect Matt Ryan for more than a second or two.

It is always mentioned that they gave up very few sacks several years ago…. ok fine, but the ball was coming out VERY EARLY too.

You almost never see this line provide the protection that the best teams give thier QB’s.

The vertical game here is going to be non existant until they get truely serious about becoming REALLY TALENTED on the offensive line.

Row 3

March 29th, 2012
11:06 am

Spoon will eat it up. Great opportunity for the young man.

Khaos

March 29th, 2012
11:07 am

Fire Smitty and Dimitroff

just sayin'

March 29th, 2012
11:11 am

the most effective ‘vertical’ game they have is the punt..oh, yeah…that’s what some of the current QB’s downfield passes resemble…

Chub Rock

March 29th, 2012
11:14 am

I think Spoon being that verbal energetic linebacker is a quality Lofton did not have. This team has got to provide a push up the middle to be successful IMO. I’m not sure Babineaux is the answer. We have got to get away from these undersized DT’s. If Jerry does not show huge improvement I say release his special needs behind at final cuts. The first interview Jerry gave I just thought he was slow mentally. This guy is 27 yrs old and has not shown up yet? I like Peters and I think a true nose tackle is on the menu for the draft. 2nd RD nose tackle 3rd RD Ladarius Green

the silverman

March 29th, 2012
11:15 am

I like Smith naming Weatherspoon as one of the defense’s new leaders. I like the way Spoon plays and believe he is perfect for the job. Hopefully we will get to see the Spoon dance a lot this year.

Chub Rock

March 29th, 2012
11:16 am

So some just show up to type “first” and don’t really have any comments related to football? Impressive!

Khaos

March 29th, 2012
11:17 am

No pass protection upgrades=no vertical passing game.
Fire Smitty and Dimitroff.

D. Orlando Ledbetter

March 29th, 2012
11:20 am

Khaos — Stop it!!! You don’t fire the GM with 4 straight winning season or a coach with a 43-21 record. More competition should help the pass protection. Wait and see.

D. Orlando Ledbetter

March 29th, 2012
11:22 am

Club Rock — I’m hearing OL in second round. Good thinking on NT because there’s no Grady Jackson clone on the roster. Green is definitely on their radar screen.

D. Orlando Ledbetter

March 29th, 2012
11:23 am

Row 3 – Yeah, Spoon will enjoy his new role.

D. Orlando Ledbetter

March 29th, 2012
11:26 am

PMC — I understand your thought pattern. I have to see exactly how they are going to achieve their goals. They must think coach Pat Hill can get them to pass protect better and longer.

PMC

March 29th, 2012
11:29 am

Firing Smitty and TD would be throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

We’re good, we want to be better but as long as these two guys are here we’re going to be competitive.

I just wish they would fix the obvious issues more quickly. They’ve been making the same mistakes for several years now. They have to be able to see that they aren’t getting to the QB on defense and they aren’t pass protecting well enough on offense, not to mention not being able to get one lousy yard when the season depends on it.

Chub Rock

March 29th, 2012
11:30 am

D. you thinking guard or tackle? Zebrie Sanders and Osemele might be there at 55. I doubt center though.

PMC

March 29th, 2012
11:32 am

I like Pat Hill DLed, to me it says a lot that he would come from a head coaching background where he’s been very successful and want to be a line coach even if the NFL is a step up from college. He was a very solid coach at Fresno, I’m glad he’s here.

My thing is, Paul Boudreau is no dummy, once Johnson got hurt last year, we were screwed at right guard. Not good and not his fault. I know they like versatile players, but the stuff we tried in that Chicago game deep when it was obvious they couldn’t protect Ryan… I just don’t get it.

It seemed like we tried to force a lot last year.

Chub Rock

March 29th, 2012
11:35 am

I’m just not sure their ready to give up on Johnson at guard yet and they signed Manuwai to play right guard or at least compete. Seems like Dimitroff signs free agents so he can use draft to fill other needs.

Sack lunch

March 29th, 2012
11:41 am

Hey D. Led any word on McNeil?

Chub Rock

March 29th, 2012
11:44 am

I’m not going to form any opinion on Pat Hill until I see what he does with this O-line. Coaches have been coming from the college ranks forever now and a lot of them end up right back where they started. He did not quit his college job to come here, he was fired,,,correct?

The Real Falcon

March 29th, 2012
11:45 am

Why would we spend our first pick on an OL when we need a TE to replace Gonzalez next year?
Also why can we never get an answer on McNeil from you Dled?

Cdpridg

March 29th, 2012
11:52 am

Ok..while Wetherspoon is filling Loftons void…who will be filling Wetherspoons??

Ivan

March 29th, 2012
11:52 am

Because the OL is bad. Really bad.

Chub Rock

March 29th, 2012
11:54 am

Obviously there is no info on Marcus McNeil. If there was you would have heard something by now. McNeil asked for a visit and workout with the Falcons and Dimitroff basically showed no interest. If you ask an employer for an interview and they don’t give you one, you should move on to other employers.

realitycheck

March 29th, 2012
11:55 am

McClure wants a ring?…………Wonder why he re-signed with the Falcons?……..cause we all know it aint happening here!

Ackshun

March 29th, 2012
11:56 am

@ Real Falcon

Hmmm that would be because we need a better O Line THIS year. Besides last year the Saints found Jummy Graham in round 7. We should be able to do as well.

Chub Rock

March 29th, 2012
11:58 am

FYI Jimmy Graham was drafted in 2010 and he was drafted in the 3rd RD not the 7th.

rollo lawson

March 29th, 2012
12:00 pm

We need to look at the DT from the University of Washington, Alameda Ta’amu: Washington (6-3, 337)

[...] in Palm Beach, Fla., our good pal Alex Marvez from the LateHits show on SiriusXM NFL … read more Related Articles Share About Author [...]

JSS

March 29th, 2012
12:27 pm

PMC gets it!!! Scheme is not going to cure that weakness issue… They get bullied!

@ Rollo…
Psssst… Folks in these parts only want SEC players because they are the “only real” football players!!! ;-)

mars

March 29th, 2012
12:29 pm

Ben Jones is projected at somewhere between 55 and 59. Get him. I’d bet he’s dying for a chance to play for a real coach.

Allbrian

March 29th, 2012
12:33 pm

The Falcons will be just fine. All this crying that we lost in the first game of the playoffs needs to stop. We lost to the team that won the superbowl, the last 2 years. No one else could beat them either. Instead of whining and crying that we didn’t win last year, look forward and get excited about this year. The last couple of years the team that won the SB just got hot at the right time. That can happen to Atlanta too. Just hope and enjoy the season.

Chub Rock

March 29th, 2012
12:35 pm

Well that’s complete BS. ;)

tpay

March 29th, 2012
12:56 pm

There are five tight ends on the roster at this time. This poaition will be a late draft pick or undrafted free agent.

Greg

March 29th, 2012
12:59 pm

PMC is right on it: On what basis should we expect that our OL will be better in pass protection? Apparently the only guys in the universe who think this will be solved with some coaching tweaks are TD & Smitty. We didn’t upgrade our personnel, and the result will be that against the better teams we won’t have the TIME to “get vertical.” I’ll start caring again about the Falcons when the management starts caring about the Falcons.

BIRDSFLYHIGH

March 29th, 2012
1:01 pm

@ Chub Rock, Dude why do you want an offensive linemen with injury issues like the o-linemen that we alread have dude! It really doesnt make sense to go after McNeil. The o-line wasn’t great but it did get us to the playoffs so a good o-line coach which by the wat Pat Hill is & a little tuning up may go a long way.

saints smell like hot mayonnaise

March 29th, 2012
1:09 pm

Well said Allbrian. I’m stoked.

The Real Falcon

March 29th, 2012
1:10 pm

Yeah I can see replacing a Pro Bowl Haoo of Fame Te with a that extra 7th round pick we received. That kind of thinking is how we got here. Losing ground. We will not find a TE to start that late. We need to groom that player this year.
With regars to the OL is there a starting LT available in the second round? I know there is a starting TE. Draft for talent not need.

The Real Falcon

March 29th, 2012
1:13 pm

Hope wins SuperBowls I guess, right?
What wins is putting the right players in the right positions, not hoping.

Jeff B

March 29th, 2012
1:17 pm

“I’m hearing OL in second round.”

Where did you hear that, from somebody at the FO? That’s the best rumor I’ve heard all day!

BIRDSFLYHIGH

March 29th, 2012
1:31 pm

I really dont think there is any really sure shot o-linemen in the second or third rounds. I say what until next year. If there are any great linemen in the second round them name them. Im waiting……..

BIRDSFLYHIGH

March 29th, 2012
1:32 pm

Allbrian

March 29th, 2012
1:35 pm

“Hope wins SuperBowls I guess, right? What wins is putting the right players in the right positions, not hoping.”

Ah, and as fans we get to make those decisions? Hope is all you can do buddy. And to all these want to be GM’s. You should be out there talking to NFL owners because you are obviosly better then their current GM’s. You know who will be good and who wont in our system without the help of the coaching staff or scouting department. That is talent! :-)

Go Falcons!

Chub Rock

March 29th, 2012
2:02 pm

@ BIRDSFLYHIGH, Dude you show me one spot in my post where I said we should sign McNeil. My post was in response to the 11:45 post by The Real Falcon…dude LOL.

Greg Mendel

March 29th, 2012
2:04 pm

“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.” — Mike Smith

He wasn’t talking just about the playoffs. The entire Falcon regular season was inconsistent. Addressing that inconsistency, as he says, is critical. The NY Giants were inconsistent last year, but won the Super Bowl.

I’ll give Smith the benefit of any doubt because his record has earned it. I’ve read a lots “doubts” on this blog, but I haven’t seen any “guarantees.” Except from Saints fans, of course.

Khaos

March 29th, 2012
2:17 pm

DLed with all due respect…you are a gentleman and a scholar (your work in the classrooms of the AUC supports this claim), but I stand by my Fire Smitty and Dimitroff tags.

I commend and appluad them for doing what no other coach and GM in the ATL’s history has done…four winning seasons. However, that’s no longer enough for me after being blown out 2 out of three playoff appearences.

Other than Rich McKay, Dimitroff has access to something no other ATL head coach/GM tandem has ever had: ownership with deep pockets and a commitment to win. The Smiths let guys like Deion walk. Blank makes guys want to play here. He goes to great lengths to bring the best here. So consistant winning for him isn’t the exception, it is the expectation. He’s given these guys every chance to succeed.That’s not common with the owners in this town not named Turner.

It’s become my expectation too. It no longer pleases me to just make it to the playoffs. The bad tastes of the Arizona (which I can forgive for year one…no one expected us to even make it in), Green Bay, and NY games still linger.

I’m not a believer in Smith’s philosophy nor do I agree with bringing guys like Decoud and Biermann back, but allowing Curtis Lofton to leave. We talk about protecting the QB and a vertical passing game. Yet our Oline has the same players.

We kept the core of a team that got thumped in the playoffs (sounds like another team in the city with a bird as its mascot).

So I’m screaming fire Smitty and Dimitroff all day until something significantly changes. If folks disagree with my take, no problem. It’s their right. However, I’m just sick of the embarrassing way we lose.

Yes, we’ve won four years in a row. It’s not easy in the NFL to accomplish this.

That said, I really believe if there were other guys here with the resources Smitty and Dimitroff have, we’d have better results in the playoffs.

Fire Smitty and Dimitroff

bobby

March 29th, 2012
2:20 pm

weatherspoon the most talented player on defense and he will have a pro bowl type season if he stays healthy.

Chub Rock

March 29th, 2012
2:31 pm

Just for farts and giggles if we fire Smitty and Dimitroff, who would we hire in their place? Anybody got suggestions? You see there are two parts to this process. You fire someone you better have a better replacement waiting in the wings.

AlanFalcon

March 29th, 2012
2:42 pm

Offense or defense, one of the two are going to show up and whef one does the other will, all of us knew that MM and BVG were not going to get the job done and after a through review after the season and not during the heat of the weekley games the continuation of failed systems installed by these two and the fact that Paul Boudreauwas even less effective was a plan for failure at the end, 2012 will bring a turn around, now get off you” arse” and support the team !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

JSS

March 29th, 2012
2:44 pm

@ Chub Rock…
Perry Fewell, he didn’t get a fair shake in Buffalo… He certainly has seen now how to run a team during the good and bad from Coughlin now… If you want to take a long chance, go and get Clarence Shelmon off of his sabbatical, you won’t have to completely gut the whole offense roster, he knows the modified power version of the WC offense