Video: Falcons DC Mike Nolan discusses 4-3, hybrid 3-4 attack


Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. (D. Orlando Ledbetter/DLedbetter@ajc.com)

Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. (D. Orlando Ledbetter/DLedbetter@ajc.com)

FLOWERY BRANCH — The Falcons are quick to note that they made 17 player moves over the offseason, but landing defensive coordinator Mike Nolan may be the team’s most important offseason pickup.

Former coordinator Brian VanGorder was in his first stint as a defensive coordinator in the NFL. He returned to the college ranks after last season.

No players in the meeting room will be able to question any calls or scheme adjustments by Nolan because of his experience as a head coach and coordinator. He has coached in the NFL since 1987, was the 49ers’ head coach from 2005-08 and has been the defensive coordinator for six other NFL teams.

The defense, which showed signs of marginal improvement under VanGorder, must make a major leap in pass coverage and on third downs under Nolan. Also, the run defense is now suspect since middle linebacker Curtis Lofton, the team’s leading tackler over the past the seasons, signed with the New Orleans Saints during free agency.

061912 FLOWERY BRANCH:  Atlanta Falcons defensive end Ray Edwards checks out the view of team practice borrowing a camera from a sports photographer to snap some photos of his teammates during the first day of mini-camp in Flowery Branch on Tuesday, June 19, 2012.      CURTIS COMPTON / CCOMPTON@AJC.COM

061912 FLOWERY BRANCH: Atlanta Falcons defensive end Ray Edwards checks out the view of team practice borrowing a camera from a sports photographer to snap some photos of his teammates during the first day of mini-camp in Flowery Branch on Tuesday, June 19, 2012. CURTIS COMPTON / CCOMPTON@AJC.COM

Over the past few weeks during organized team activities and minicamp, which is set to conclude Thursday, Nolan has put names and faces with those little dots he has watched relentlessly during his film analysis of the team.

“After you watch that film, you think they might be bigger or smaller than they are,” Nolan said. “There are some surprises.”

While the unit will not undergo an overhaul, there will be some fundamental changes.

“We’ll be 4-3 and we’ll use 3-4 at times, but we’ll be primarily a 4-3 because this team was built that way,” said Nolan, who is considered a proponent of the 3-4, but has coached both systems. “You want to play to your players’ strengths.”

The defense’s intensity and tempo have been fast-paced during minicamp practices. The defense, under Nolan, clearly plans to attack the opposition.

The new schemes have infused the unit with enthusiastic spirit.

061912 FLOWERY BRANCH:  Atlanta Falcons defensive end John Abraham runs an agility drill during the first day of mini-camp in Flowery Branch on Tuesday, June 19, 2012.      CURTIS COMPTON / CCOMPTON@AJC.COM

061912 FLOWERY BRANCH: Atlanta Falcons defensive end John Abraham runs an agility drill during the first day of mini-camp in Flowery Branch on Tuesday, June 19, 2012. CURTIS COMPTON / CCOMPTON@AJC.COM

“We are rowdy,” linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said. “You can definitely sense that from [the beginning.] All of these guys are having fun out here. We’ve kind of taken the mentality that it’s our time.”

While Weatherspoon will be expected to improve in his third season, the defensive ends stand to benefit the most from Nolan’s schemes.

“All of those guys, if they were on a 3-4 team, would be outside ’backers,” Nolan said. “They could benefit. I think the inside ’backers could benefit, too. The 3-4 is very friendly to linebackers.”

Nolan was the New York Jets’ defensive coordinator when they drafted John Abraham, the Falcons’ top defensive end, in 2000.

Weatherspoon, who played weakside linebacker last season, doesn’t have much of a learning curve.

“He’s playing the same position in this defense that he was before, so there are no changes there,” Nolan said.

Atlanta Falcons cornerback Asante Samuel gestures after making an interception during practice Tuesday, May 29 in Flowery Branch, Ga.

Atlanta Falcons cornerback Asante Samuel gestures after making an interception during practice Tuesday, May 29 in Flowery Branch, Ga.

Nolan looks forward to the competition at middle linebacker between Lofa Tatupu and Akeem Dent, who will battle to replace Lofton.

“Akeem is a young player that we’re hoping just continues to mature and get better and better,” Nolan said. “Hopefully, that’s happening. He’s done a real good job out here. Lofa is a dependable guy that’s a veteran who has some pelts on the wall. He’s done an outstanding job.”

The creative Nolan would not rule out both inside linebackers playing at the same time.

“We want to get our best three on the field,” Nolan said. “Hopefully, that’s not because of injury. If somebody beats somebody out, that would be good.”

The addition of cornerback Asante Samuel is expected to boost the pass coverage.

“He’s got great anticipation,” Nolan said.

Nolan is pleased with the play of safeties Thomas DeCoud and William Moore, but doesn’t see much depth at the position.

Nolan warned about getting too excited about the defense’s early showing.

“Right now, we’re just running around in shorts, so everything is high-speed in shorts,” he noted.

–D. Orlando Ledbetter, The Atlanta Falcons beat blog

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30 comments Add your comment

HATinGA

June 21st, 2012
7:05 am

I think we will be better because coach Nolan will improve one area, I think the most important in football and thats 3rd down defence, it improves your whole team when you can get off the field on 3rd and 7+. I dont know how many times last year we would play great on 1st and 2nd down get a team in 3rd and 13, and then give up a 30yrd pass, after brees or whoever stood back there in the pocket for days. You have to ATTACK on 3rd and long, and I think Nolan gets that, BVG just hoped the other team would make a misteak.

PlanB

June 21st, 2012
7:50 am

Why have we had to wait this long to get new coordinators. It doesn’t take 4 years to find that plays and schemes could be much better.

The Real Falcon

June 21st, 2012
8:10 am

Agree with no depth comment. Not surpised however. Look at QB depth. No experience as a full time starter. TE same and no one to replace Gonzo after this year. Whay because we keep having to spend picks on the same postions” OL.

Mike is Back

June 21st, 2012
8:15 am

Great Stuff DLed, This guy really excites me…part of the reason I’m so excited about the upcoming season for BIRDS.

GO BIRDS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Say It Aint So

June 21st, 2012
8:27 am

The Falcons window is open and will not get wider than it is now. Now is the time to make a run. If a 9-7 Giants team can win a Championship, so can our Falcons. Agree with plan B, what took so long to get better coordinators?

SeenThisB4

June 21st, 2012
8:29 am

Nolan seems to be firmly pessimistic about this team’s defensive ability. Seems as if he anticipates getting burned, often.

Paddy

June 21st, 2012
8:46 am

Seen this B4….with your jaded view of everthing Falcon, it is not a big surprise that this would be your take on this article. You are sure welcome on this site but trry and mix it up some and occasionally be objective. This should be fun for everybody but throw in some reason from time to time. These football blogs are becoming tedious and we lack an open honest discussion.Believe that was the intended purpose to begin with. IMHO

Shotyme

June 21st, 2012
8:53 am

Man I cant wait!

Have not SeenThisB4...now

June 21st, 2012
8:59 am

Falcons winning the Super Bowl. This year baby!!

In the infamous words of Samie L Jackson, what do falcons do?? Rise Up!

If there is one tag line the team needs to follow this year, it is ‘Man Up” and do what ya gotta do!Atlanta is freaking tired of waiting and of the ineptness of those birds of the past…if you ain’t first baby, you’re last.

Falcons will make no excuses, health issues be dammed, coaching be dammed, let the leaders lead, let the players play, and Smith stay the heck out of the way!! Birds all the way…a playoff win is NOT the objective, Ryan becoming elite is not the objective, another winning season isn’t the objective…a title is and anyone who would settle for less this year, just loves football and cares nothing about being first. Alert, we CAN love football, AND push for the title this year…should we not streatch our goals boys??

SeenThisB4

June 21st, 2012
8:59 am

Okay Paddy: How’s this: Nolan’s pleased with who he has as his two primary safeties, he just wishes he had more depth there.

Hudd

June 21st, 2012
9:03 am

Gregg Williams confessed.

FalconUGAFan

June 21st, 2012
9:04 am

That’s the worst example of objectivity I’ve ever seenB4.

SeenThisB4

June 21st, 2012
9:18 am

REead the third to last sentence, I’m just saying the same thing NOLAn said.

robertussen

June 21st, 2012
9:25 am

i wish we had some more dept a safety too. but knowing the falcons, they will wait till we see how bad it can be in the pre-season, then scramble to find a someone who got cut. then we wait till 5 or 6 games into the season before they kind of know the system. this has happened every year. (dominique fox, ty hill, {i think charlie peprah was added late}, brian williams, kelvin hayden, james sanders) i may have missed someone, but you get my point. so why don’t they take care of it now if they see a possible problem.

Bullseye

June 21st, 2012
9:43 am

Seen blows more kisses today to the Falcons. He loves the Birds, it’s all he thinks about.

mark

June 21st, 2012
10:05 am

Damn Seenthis b4

Beebo The Mutant Sloth

June 21st, 2012
10:16 am

Nolan is making proper use of the talent we have. He’s done that everywhere he goes. I appreciate his positive yet realistic outlook. If anything “killed” our defense last year, it was third down efficiency. That will be much improved and will move this defense from top 12 into the top ten.

[...] New defensive coordinator Mike Nolan took some time after a Falcons minicamp session to talk about the look of his 4-3 defense this year and how there will be some 3-4 hybrid looks mixed in. [Atlanta Journal-Constitution] [...]

[...] New defensive coordinator Mike Nolan took some time after a Falcons minicamp session to talk about the look of his 4-3 defense this year and how there will be some 3-4 hybrid looks mixed in. [Atlanta Journal-Constitution] [...]

North FLA Falcon

June 21st, 2012
10:33 am

SeenB4 — why haven’t you signed Brees yet?

[...] New defensive coordinator Mike Nolan took some time after a Falcons minicamp session to talk about the look of his 4-3 defense this year and how there will be some 3-4 hybrid looks mixed in. [Atlanta Journal-Constitution] [...]

Falco peregrino

June 21st, 2012
10:38 am

I think Nolan and Smith will slowly transition this defense into a 3-4 scheme. The defense should be twice as good by mid-season.

Coach LockDown

June 21st, 2012
10:42 am

I will take a wait and see approach. I will formulate my opinion of this revamped defense after the first half of the first 3 games of the preseason. The first issue that the Falcons have to address is the ability to create pocket pressure with 4 or less rushers, if they cannot do this, this will put pressure on the DC to bring an extra defender into the rush, which will leave the backend in most likely man coverage or single high safety zone coverage. Didn’t see a lot of positive results from this coverage last year.

Paddy

June 21st, 2012
11:14 am

Seen This B4……thats much better!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

D. Orlando Ledbetter

June 21st, 2012
11:19 am

Added some video of Coach Nolan for you all.

ASHCAN!!!!!!!

June 21st, 2012
12:32 pm

Here we go again with all the hype from talk instead of action. Show me is what im interested in. Please don’t let me be the first to say wait til next year before the season start. I’m with you coach LockDown!!

Paddy

June 21st, 2012
3:15 pm

Coach Lock Down……we all want to see vast improvement w/ this defense. The wait and see approach is a good one. But I am encouraged.

DaddysHere

June 22nd, 2012
12:27 pm

Some you guys trip me out! CLD go Sit Down…. Anybody can wait til season is over and say what they saw, my grandmother can do that! Like other guy said, you send the house when it’s 3rd n long!! BVG was an idiot… If it’s 3rd and 12, who cares if they complete 9 or 10 yards?????? Make the tackle, its 4th down and give us our ball. YOU DO NOT JUST SEND 3-5 PEOPLE AND HOPE A DREW OR RODGERS OR ELI CANT FIND NOBODY!!!!! ITS THE NFL!! QBs WILL CONVERT 20 YARDS WITH NO PRESSURE!!!! BVG=SMH…. Good Luck at Auburn you panzie conservative weak DC………….With FINALLY moving Robinson off corner position.. We can use safety behind him, MAN UP (not zones BVG) and get after somebodys rear ends!!! I am done coaching for now…

Before It's News

June 25th, 2012
6:10 am

[...] his carer and has no plans to move the Falcons away from their current 4-3 base defense. However, Nolan has indicated that Atlanta will utilize some 3-4 variations as well as bringing some of the aggressive blitzing [...]

[...] his carer and has no plans to move the Falcons away from their current 4-3 base defense. However, Nolan has indicated that Atlanta will utilize some 3-4 variations as well as bringing some of the aggressive blitzing [...]