Atlanta Falcons: Smith checks in on Saints’ bumpy offseason

061312 FLOWERY BRANCH: Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith circles his troops for some "coach speak" at the conclusion of team practice in Flowery Branch on Wednesday, June 13, 2012. Mini-camp for the team will begin next week.   CURTIS COMPTON / CCOMPTON@AJC.COM

061312 FLOWERY BRANCH: Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith circles his troops for some "coach speak" at the conclusion of team practice in Flowery Branch on Wednesday, June 13, 2012. Mini-camp for the team will begin next week. CURTIS COMPTON / CCOMPTON@AJC.COM

Falcons coach Mike Smith doesn’t believe that his squad is the automatic favorite to win the NFC South just because the New Orleans Saints, the defending division champs, have been embroiled in a bounty-filled offseason marked by suspensions, lawsuits and contract disputes.

“I don’t necessarily believe that,” said Smith, when asked on the American Century Championship conference call today.  “I know that the NFC South has been one the most competitive divisions for a number of years. Most certainly before I got to the Falcons, there was the worst-to-first story for three or four years. It’s very competitive.”

The Saints have been hit hard by bounty-gate suspensions and have not worked out a long-term deal with quarterback Drew Brees.

“In the division, we have three outstanding quarterbacks that have proven themselves and then there is the young one in Josh Freeman that is going to be a great quarterback as well,” Smith said. “It’s a fun division and I don’t think the offseason is any different. We all will prepare and get ready to go play.”

Smith knows that quarterback Matt Ryan, who has a 43-19 regular-season record, but is 0-3 in the playoffs, will face pressure to return the Falcons to the playoffs and post a victory. Ryan has guided the Falcons to the playoffs in three of his four seasons in the league, but has been eliminated by the eventual NFC Super Bowl representative each time.

“I think the head coach and the quarterback position are the most scrutinized positions in an organization,” Smith said. “I think ultimately we are both going to be judged on success in the postseason. There have been a lot of teams and a lot of players that have broken through and gotten that first win. That’s why we are doing everything in our power to figure out how to get that done.

“That comes with the territory when you don’t have the success that people expect. The expectations are very high in Atlanta, so there are going to be people talking about it. We just have to keep our heads down, keep preparing and doing the things that we’ve done. We know that we’re doing it the right way. We just have to figure out how to play better at the end of the season.”

Smith also addressed the addition of safety Chris Hope, who was signed after the completion of minicamp.

“Chris is a very experienced safety, who’s going to give us depth,” Smith said. “That was one of the areas in the offseason that we felt like we needed to address. Chris has some experience with our defensive backs coach Tim Lewis, which I think is a positive.”

Smith is expecting the offense to get a boost from second-year players Julio Jones and Jacquizz Rodgers.

“Last year was a very unique year for the players, the coaches, the fans and the personnel department,” Smith said. “It was very difficult when there were so many unknowns for Julio Jones, Jacquizz Rodgers and our entire rookie class. You’ll see great steps in terms of their production simply because they’ve had an opportunity to understand not only what we do as the Atlanta Falcons, but  what the NFL game is all about.

“They were at a big disadvantage in my opinion last year in terms of coming in on the 25th of July and not really having an opportunity to spend time with the coaching staff and understand the actual sequencing of what a work week should be like. Julio had a very good year for us last year and so did Jacquizz. I think they’ll be integral parts of the success we have this year.”

The Falcons open training camp on July 26. They open the regular season on the road at Kansas City on Sept. 9.

“I’ve been very impressed with their team,” Smith said of the Chiefs. “Romeo Crennel did a great job when he stepped in there as the interim coach. Romeo is an outstanding football coach and an even better person.  Scott Pioli has done a very good job in building the roster there in Kansas City. They were a team that had an exorbitant amount of injuries last year. It will be a battle. . .I anticipate that they are going to be a much better team than they were last year, if they can keep all of the guys healthy. ”

Ryan has played in the popular tournament in Lake Tahoe, which will be held July 20-22 and televised on NBC,  over the past three offseasons and told Smith about it.

“I’ve been hitting a lot of balls and hopefully, I will not finish last,” Smith said.  “That’s the goal that I’m going to approach this with, have a good time and raise some money for charity.”

–D. Orlando Ledbetter, The Atlanta Falcons beat blog

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179 comments Add your comment

True Falcon Fan

July 11th, 2012
4:32 pm

D. Orlando Ledbetter

July 11th, 2012
4:33 pm

True Falcon Fan — Hello!

True Falcon Fan

July 11th, 2012
4:33 pm

D Led first for me —- Good post

Go Falcons!

Drew Brees is insufferable and arrogant

July 11th, 2012
4:38 pm

I agree with Smith that the Saints are not to be overlooked. They have been manhandling the Falcons since Sean “painkiller” Payton’s arrival.

That being said, Drew Brees’ hold out can’t help, nor can his abdication of responsibility as a leader in the NFLPA to denounce the bounty program that former DC Gregg Williams admitted to in detail.

hiramsaint

July 11th, 2012
4:39 pm

hmmmmmm- already conceding to the Saints. first smart move he’s done in a long time given his 4th and short issues

FittenTrim

July 11th, 2012
4:39 pm

“Romeo Crennel is an outstanding football coach and an even better person.”

That’s why his teams don’t win… he should be more like Belichick

walt garrison

July 11th, 2012
4:39 pm

this team needs a good fullback , like me , they let the bestone go

Falconfiend

July 11th, 2012
4:39 pm

Carolina is going to struggle in defense. Tampa is over rated and last year proved that. N. O and falcons will fight for that NFC South title. Falcons are capable of beating any team. The falcons will be better in defense and the offense needs to gel that O line. The NFC south and east play each other in the Reg season. Those games will be playoffs to get to the playoffs if you don’t win the division.

Drew Brees is

July 11th, 2012
4:40 pm

Enter your comments here

Drew Brees is 10 of 12 vs. the Falcons

July 11th, 2012
4:41 pm

“nuff said “-with that , he can afford to be arrogant

Drew Brees is insufferable and arrogant

July 11th, 2012
4:43 pm

It’s funny–when the Saints’ GM was accused of wire tapping opponents’ locker rooms, he was vehement in his denial. I actually believed him. Yet all of the Saints coaches/brass implicated in “bountygate” have not had that same reaction–they’ve admitted to their wrongdoing and taken their suspensions. The notion that they have to “be quiet or suffer worse discipline” is simply laughable–if the bounty program were a lie, then they’d be protesting to high heaven just as Loomis did over the wire tap allegations.

D. Orlando Ledbetter

July 11th, 2012
4:44 pm

walt garrison — You still doing the Skoal commericals?

D. Orlando Ledbetter

July 11th, 2012
4:45 pm

True Falcon Fan — Congratulations!

Seen (the Saints) This (win a title, only to have it tainted by Bountgate) B4

July 11th, 2012
4:46 pm

You know what’s really funny about the media? Imagine if Vick were 23 yards shy of breaking Marino’s record, and in the last 3 minutes of a blowout, he continued to throw the ball, just as Brees did. Can you imagine the outcry and sports radio/internet debates over how classless Vick was? Yet Brees does it and the only response is…”well, they should’ve stopped him.” That’s BS. Yes they should have, but it was still classless and for the national sports media to give Brees a pass on that just shows their own biases and shortcomings.

Drew Brees is 10 of 12 vs. the Falcons

July 11th, 2012
4:55 pm

and after this season I’ll be 12 of 14 and holding another Lombardi

James

July 11th, 2012
4:57 pm

D Led, what’s been the workload like for Jacquizz so far? Is he gonna be more of a feature back between the tackles after Turner or more of what he did last year in multiple ways he can get the ball and Snelling will get the carries between the tackles after Turner?

Hudd

July 11th, 2012
5:02 pm

What I can’t understand is Saints, including Brees, talking about the NFL’s flimsy evidence and saying Bountygate is a myth.

GREGG WILLIAMS CONFESSED! Case pretty much closed.

Tony

July 11th, 2012
5:08 pm

They were at a big disadvantage in my opinion last year in terms of coming in on the 25th of July and not really having an opportunity to spend time with the coaching staff and understand the actual sequencing of what a work week should be like

Why does Smith always talking about a player learning how to practice?

fanATicaL

July 11th, 2012
5:10 pm

I understand the struggle within the NFC south division.But I think the real fight will be the schedule in it self.The only real give me game in my opinion is the Cardinals.The rest whether we play a fair team in there stadium.Or we play a good team at the Dome.It helps to play Philly after our bye week.It helps playing Payton in the Dome. But if the Falcons survive this guantlet.They will have the confidence to make a strong run for the SB.

hiramsaint

July 11th, 2012
5:19 pm

superbowl-hah- is this a re-run of last years post or the year before that. FALCONS = Fans Always Left Counting On Next Season

Big Time Saints Fan

July 11th, 2012
5:21 pm

I am worried about this year.

Die Hard Falcon

July 11th, 2012
5:28 pm

I really believe the division is up for grabs this year. Last year it was a given that it’d be either the Falcons or the aints but this year, I really think Carolina could be a contender and the aints will have a chip on their shoulder for sure. Falcons should be the favorite, but it really depends on if Mike Nolan can make this defense a top 10, which I believe he can. I think as long as the offense doesn’t regress, we’ll be so much better defensively that we should post an 11 win season and make the playoffs and most likely take the division. We must split w/ the aints and panthers at least and sweep the bucs who I think will have a rebuilding year despite the big FA signings, they have a new coach and system and many new players, I would be surprised if they had more than 6 wins. Matt Ryan will prove the doubters wrong this year and prove that he’s a top 10 QB; I see him at about #7 in the NFL right now and he will prove it this year if the OLine allows for it.

Go Falcons!

Sick & Tired Of Being Sick & Tired

July 11th, 2012
5:28 pm

I’m just looking forward to the season starting soon….yet not soon enough.

hiramsaint

July 11th, 2012
5:39 pm

how should the failclowns be the favorite dhf ? vegas , who makes vast amounts of money on being right , doesn’t even have y’all making the playoffs . some of the nfl experts agree from what i saw a couple of days ago on 5 in 5 out.

4th and inches

July 11th, 2012
5:42 pm

Go for it-tick tick tick -damn, not again ! lol lol lol

5150 UOAD

July 11th, 2012
5:44 pm

iRamTaint……and what did those experts have the Giants and Philly doing last year?

Bucky Badger

July 11th, 2012
5:50 pm

Falcons = Class Organization
Aints = Disgraced Organization
Rock On Falcons!

hiramsaint

July 11th, 2012
5:54 pm

5150- live in the now. this isn’t 1998 anymore. gotta give you kudos on the giants though , the experts didn’t have them shutting out your offence

hiramsaint

July 11th, 2012
5:55 pm

@ bucky-failclowns = 0-1…Saints =1-0

THE Perxide Bandit

July 11th, 2012
5:58 pm

Smitty said his goal was not to finish last. WOW-What an optimist

Bucky Badger

July 11th, 2012
6:00 pm

offence, Hiram? That 6th grade education has really come in handy for ya…!

Bucky Badger

July 11th, 2012
6:03 pm

Where is your buddy SeenB4, Hiram?…With his Parole Officer?!

hiramsaint

July 11th, 2012
6:08 pm

nope -he’s with your momma !

hiramsaint

July 11th, 2012
6:09 pm

?!- as is yours bucky !

Careful Curmedgeon

July 11th, 2012
6:11 pm

Yes, we can’t underestimate the New Orleans Saints. I don’t think Brees will throw for over 5,000 yards this year, but that offense still has a lot of weapons. I’m really excited about what we’ve done in the defensive secondary. What we’ve been seeing the last two or three seasons is when the Falcons go to their Nickel coverage, opposing QBs would pinpoint the Nickel back and just pick on him all day long! Hopefully, that won’t happen anymore–RISE UP

Seen (the Saints) This (win a title, only to have it tainted by Bountgate) B4

July 11th, 2012
6:14 pm

I don’t want ATL to be picked to win anything. I want the experts to diss us…better to have low expectations. The fact is, the NFC is ridiculously tough now. In the AFC, I would pencil the Falcons in for the Conference title game…but not in the NFC. It’s going to be very, very tough.

hiramsaint

July 11th, 2012
6:16 pm

you ought to be “careful” with that RISE UP thing . it didn’t work out to well last year but i must agree , your secondary should be much improved over last years and who knows -dunta may be able to learn coverage skills from hope and sammuels !

Seen (the Saints) This (rocked by a scandal) B4 (Painkillers, now bounties)

July 11th, 2012
6:17 pm

Ha ha ha love this blog, funny banter between ATL and Taints fans. Seriously, if this were the AFC, the Falcons would be a lock for the conference title game…but in the NFC, there’s just too many teams to contend with…NYG, GB, and NO are 3 of the 4 (if not top 3) best teams in the entire league (w/ NE as the 4th). Then you get into Detroit, San Fran, Dallas, Philly…we are in a rough conference. Better to NOT have the experts pick us and exceed expectations.

Seen (Sean Peyton) This (Win a super Bowl ) B (And the Failcans can't ) 4

July 11th, 2012
6:24 pm

Gotta agree with you on the nfc but really- the Falcons would be the best in the afc ?

Firsttimer

July 11th, 2012
6:25 pm

I am glad to see that Smith is taking his division rivals seriously. In this league you’d better take any opponent on your schedule serious or risk being upset. I, personally am more concerned with the Bucs than the Saints. The Bucs loaded up with veteran talent and could be the sleeper of the division. Either way, you never underestimate your opponent. If you prepare your team with that mindset you will come into every game well prepared. Smitty said exactly what he should say.

JSS

July 11th, 2012
6:29 pm

5150 UOAD

July 11th, 2012
6:29 pm

Well we Know the TAINTS can’t Rise UP. If they could the toilet wouldn’t have overflowed and washed all the trash out of that down.

hiramsaint

July 11th, 2012
6:32 pm

maybe you should proofread first 5150 . besides being stupid , it didn’t make any sense either

Laughing out Loud

July 11th, 2012
6:32 pm

That chip on the aints shoulder will be cow chips for sure. They aint nothing the Falcons cannot beat! Go Falcons!

Seen (the Saints) This (rocked by a scandal) B4 (Painkillers, now bounties)

July 11th, 2012
6:32 pm

I think the second tier NFC teams (Detroit, Atlanta, San Fran) would all be #2 or #3 in the AFC behind only the Pats and maybe Flacco and the Ravens. AFC is awful. NFC is ridiculously good–look at the teams like Dallas and Philly and Chicago–even they would be top tier AFC teams (again, behind the Pats).

hiramsaint

July 11th, 2012
6:36 pm

then whats been the problem for the last six years lol ?

Dr. Huxtable

July 11th, 2012
6:39 pm

The Taint’s are not the Falcons biggest concern in the NFC. The Packers, Giants, Panthers, Bears, Eagles, etc. are. Even the 49er’s, who demolished and bullied a cheating Taint’s team in the playoffs, will be better this season.

hiramsaint

July 11th, 2012
6:44 pm

as i recall , our O scored in our playoff games-what did yours do ? miss the plane ? 5 pts. does not = bullied and demolished-ZERO offensive points does. c’mon man , don’t make it so ez for me !

Dr. Huxtable

July 11th, 2012
6:45 pm

Oh – and at least “Rise Up” is original. Taint’s had to steal the Bengle’s “Who Dey” with even worse grammar…

Bress Knees

July 11th, 2012
6:45 pm

I’m sure their are going to be NFL players ready to destroy Drew Brees’s knee with a revenge bounty of their own.