FLOWERY BRANCH – Arthur Blank, who’s set to enter his 11th season as the Falcons’ owner, was a frequent visitor to practice during training camp.
He’s ready for the season to kickoff when the Falcons face the Kansas City Chiefs at 1 p.m. Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.
In an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Blank is clearly fired up about the season and discussed a wide range of topics from Mike Smith not being on the proverbial hot seat to encouraging fans to be on time for kickoff.
Here’s the full interview:
Q: What are your expectations for the 2012 NFL season?
A: I know that we have a better football team than we had last year. I’m excited about the coaching changes that we made which doesn’t takeaway from Coach [Brian] VanGorder or Coach [Mike] Mularkey, but I think that Dirk Koetter and Mike Nolan bring in a little different perspective, some new energy, and maybe some scheme changes and maybe a little different understanding of how to use particular players maybe differently than we’ve used them in them in the past. As a result of camp, I saw a lot of confidence and energy from our players. I think they feel good about the changes they see. I like our draft choices. I like the free agency activity that we had this year. I think they feel good about it. So, I think we are going into the season with a degree of confidence, but also with a degree of humility. In the NFL every Sunday, the other guys on the other side of the line are very talented. As coach [Mike] Smith has said more than once, it’s only five or six plays that usually decide every Sunday who wins and who losses. I like where we are. Our record is 0-0. We have a lot of games yet to play like everybody else in the NFL. Hopefully, we are going to come out again with a winning season. Hopefully, we’ll come out again in a playoff position and hopefully come out with a better result in the playoff situation than we’ve had in the last few years. So those are my expectations.
Q: What about the notion that Coach Mike Smith is on the hot seat?
A: He’s not on any hot seat. Coach Smith, he and Thomas, I particularly feel really blessed – and I don’t use that word every day, all day long – I feel blessed having them both in place. The last four years to have the record that we’ve established after 42 years of not having back-to-back winning seasons, to have four of them back-to-back-to-back-to-back winning seasons and be in the playoffs three of four years, to have a coach that’s been named coach of the year two out of four years in the NFL. And Thomas being named executive of the year twice the last four years, is . . . very impressive. I have a high degree of confidence in the partnership and the consistency of the team and the sustainability of the team we have. I think it’s important this time of the year when you get into late August and early September that you are in the mix in terms of playoff conversation amongst the media, with the national pundits, and the local ones as well. I think we’ve reached that level. Obviously, we are trying to get to the next level. I have confidence that we’ll be able to do that. I have faith in Smitty and faith in Thomas and faith in all of our coaches. I really do.
Q: Did you see where Bill Polian picked the Falcons to reach the Super Bowl?
A: He didn’t pick us to win. He picked us to play [in the Super Bowl.] The only thing I disagree with is that if we play, we are going to win. So, but coming from Bill Polian, in a serious vein, Bill is somebody as a general manager and an executive in the NFL, he’s certainly one of the historic ones in the history of the game. Coming from him, that kind of an appraisal means a great deal. …It means a lot that he’s looked at our talent and sees us that way.
Q: Are you excited about the home the schedule?
A: I’m very excited about our schedule [overall]. I like a number of things about it. Number one, I like the fact that we have a home-away, home-away all the way through the season. I think that’s pretty balanced. I like the fact that we have four national games. We have a Thursday night game, a Saturday night game, Sunday night game and a Monday night game. That gives us the kind of national exposure that I think this team has earned. … there is a story line behind every single game that we play. … Starting with this coming Sunday in Kansas City, there is obviously a relationship there between Scott Pioli and Thomas Dimitroff. There is a story every Sunday. That is one of the neat things about the NFL. It’s not only who’s competing, but all of the sub-plots that take place.
Q: Are you looking forward to seeing the new defense under coach Nolan?
A: I am! The expression that Mike Nolan uses all the time, which I believe is the way he actually schemes and coaches, is that the defense should play offense. I think the players feel that way. Again, we had a great experience with Brian VanGorder. He helped to bring us to the level that we are today. I think Mike has the capacity to take us to the next level. I think most importantly, the players feel that way now. The fact that as athletes they feel that way is terribly important. I think during the preseason games, what I would say, is that I was very encouraged by the way our first teams played on offense and on defense. I’ve seen a lot of good things on both sides of the ball. Hopefully, they’ll continue on as we start shooting the real bullets.
Q: Do you envision Matt Ryan climbing to elite status in the league this year?
A: I think that Matt is certainly one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL. I think that most people would put him the top 10 in the league. Frankly, he knows this, as well as our fan-base knows it, to get to that top four or five, we have to win some playoff games. Matt clearly understands that.
Q: Are you considering some incentives to encourage the fans to get to the games on time?
A: We have tried to do that by creating Falcons Landing, which brings people hopefully to the Stadium site a couple of hours before the game. There is a lot of activity there. It’s a lot of fun for the whole family. We’ve created a number of packages as far as concessions in our building that create some opportunities for fans to come in and enjoy some food and drink at a little better pricing. I think we’re doing whatever we can . . . We’ve encouraged fans to be there early and for our team, giving the winning record that our team has on the field at home over the last three or four years is pretty incredible. It’s probably one of the best two or three in the National Football League. We need all of the fans in their seats at the start of the first quarter. Not the middle of the first quarter or after that. They do make a difference in how our team play. Our players feel it. They feel the energy and they feel the enthusiasm. I would encourage our fans, for all of those reasons, to be there early. Enjoy the entire day and help support their team right from the get-go.
Q: Last question, Do you have Julio Jones on your fantasy team?
A: I don’t. I would have picked him, but he was taken by the time my pick came up. I do have several of our players. Frankly, I would have taken the entire team, but there are other owners in our fantasy league and they make choices as well. I’m enthused about doing fantasy again this year. I have the whole family involved again, which creates a lot of interest on Sundays beyond our own team and with a lot of friends as well. So, it’s fun.
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