A hot camp opens, with a hotter Falcons’ season to follow

A pithy Smitty says: "This way to the Super Bowl!" (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

A pithy Smitty says: "This way to the Super Bowl!" (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

FLOWERY BRANCH — On a hot day in July, Mike Smith made reference to January. That was the new beginning, the coach said, the day his Falcons beat Tampa Bay to finish 9-7. Not that Smitty was celebrating the 9-7.

“We got the result we wanted to get us over the hump with the consecutive winning seasons,” he said Friday, “but I have to tell you I was very, very disappointed in the final result of the season. Internally our goals were much, much higher.”

In Tampa, Smith told his players: “This is the first game of 2010. We need to start 2010 in the right fashion.”

And they did. And the Falcons have scarcely put a foot wrong since. They signed Dunta Robinson. They drafted Sean Weatherspoon. They re-signed Brian Williams. And now here they were, after the first practice of Training Camp 2010, hot but happy.

“The fact that it’s 100 degrees doesn’t matter,” said Tony Gonzalez, the tight end.

See, this team fully expects to be playing when it’s below freezing. (Meaning: in January 2011.)

The offseason moves met with internal approval, Gonzalez said. “Defensive backs were our biggest need, and Dunta Robinson is one of the best. From what I saw in one practice, that was the best decision we could make. And drafting for defense in the past two drafts was the right thing.”

Said John Abraham, the defensive end: “Dunta’s a great guy. He’s a hard-nosed guy, a no-nonsense guy. Having him there makes it easier to do what I do.”

The defense should be better. The offense, which figured to be great last season but wasn’t quite … well, here’s Gonzalez: “Offensively we’re pretty confident. We can move up and down the field. We have the horses.”

So: A 9-7 team stands to improve on both offense and defense. What does that mean? Gonzalez again: “If we stay healthy, the sky’s the limit.”

The Super Bowl champion plays in the NFC South. The Falcons don’t care. The first three games are against Pittsburgh, Arizona and New Orleans, the first and third of them being road dates. The Falcons won’t be fazed. These are no longer the feel-good fresh faces of 2008. This is a team about to enter its prime.

Said Smith: “It’s part of our process. We’re in Year 3 now. We should be advanced.”

Said Gonzalez: “We’ve got a lot of guys in their third and fourth years. That’s when it’s supposed to click. That’s the norm in the NFL. If we do that, we’ll be pretty good.”

Third-year Falcons: Matt Ryan, Sam Baker, Curtis Lofton, Thomas DeCoud, Kroy Biermann. Those were the plums of Thomas Dimitroff’s first draft crop, and they’ve already done good work. The good news is that they’re capable of doing even better.

A bit later, Gonzalez said: “That third and fourth year is when guys start to hit their peak. It’s not, ‘We hope we do it.’ It’s, ‘We have to do it.’”

In the cold light of hindsight, the 2008 team probably wasn’t as good as 11-5. The 2009 Falcons, of which much was expected, were gifted but not terribly deep, and that’s why they wound up 9-7. Another injury to Ryan or Michael Turner would hurt the 2010 team, sure, but this bunch would appear to have more ways to win.

“That 9-7 was good for the organization,” Abraham said, “but for me it was not good. I felt we should have been a playoff team. We lost some close games.”

That said, the 2009 Falcons were stout enough to play the eventual Super Bowl champs tough twice, the second time without Ryan and Turner. They were able to whip the Jets, whom a lot of folks regard as the coming power in the AFC, on the road in December. Utilizing hindsight yet again, we can now say that wrangling nine victories from a season going wrong was a test of both will and skill.

And now a new training camp has commenced and a new season is six weeks away, and here’s a team for which January cannot be the beginning of something. This is a team for which January should be a culmination.

126 comments Add your comment

rekingball

July 30th, 2010
12:36 pm

Enter your comments hereOh Yeah!

rekingball

July 30th, 2010
12:36 pm

rekingball

July 30th, 2010
12:36 pm

GO FALCONS!!!!!

Falcons Fan

July 30th, 2010
12:37 pm

Can’t wait for the season to start!!! My season tickets arrived in the mail yesterday!!! Let’s go Falcons!!! Stay injury free.

rekingball

July 30th, 2010
12:37 pm

I thinks they goin all the way!

tony

July 30th, 2010
12:38 pm

just ready to see the birds backm in the playoffs

rekingball

July 30th, 2010
12:38 pm

Free Jonny Venters!

Mack

July 30th, 2010
12:39 pm

I love this time of the year. I can say 14-2 and really believe it!!!

POAD

July 30th, 2010
12:40 pm

Good article Mark will you be at the 4 practice? Why no phones or laptops? Do they think you will give away some secrets this early in the year? Hope you have some shade and losts of water.

JMayne

July 30th, 2010
12:41 pm

Are you ready for some football??! Ha. Ready to see this team. They could be really good.

Born2Buzz

July 30th, 2010
12:41 pm

Should be a great year for football in the ATL. Both Tech and UGA should have solid, if not spectacular seasons and the Falcons should be in the playoffs. Let’s hope all teams go injury free so they can reach their potential – yes, even the doggies.

N

July 30th, 2010
12:42 pm

Why is this the story. Trade deadline is hours away and Braves are in first place, come on. No coverage.

mark

July 30th, 2010
12:43 pm

Ted M

July 30th, 2010
12:50 pm

N – There are no Braves Trade Rumors at all. I think Wren is standing pat

rekingball

July 30th, 2010
12:52 pm

N……..Them Braves are all going to get hot bats and win the East.
Mark B. already said so, just last week. And he was 100% coo-rrect.

GO FALCONS!!!!!!12-4, at least, in 2010!!!!!!!WIN NFC South!!!!!!!!!

rekingball

July 30th, 2010
12:55 pm

Stand pat Mr. Wren, play the hand you have!
Braves have it in the bag. Phillys are just on a sugar high, they will crash soon. Oswalt, Smazwalt, he aint that much.

rekingball

July 30th, 2010
1:01 pm

Braves still have better pitchin than the Phils. They just need for Chipper to break out that big bottle of Geritol, that he had been using, and pass it around the dugout before, and during the game.
Old man Lowe needs to Bogart it, a little bit, when it gets to him.

GO BRAVES!!!!!!!!!

GO FALCONS in 2010, all the way!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Hankie Aron

July 30th, 2010
1:01 pm

Sadly, I think Ted M hit the nail on the head. Cross your fingers, though, maybe Wren pulls something.

jerry

July 30th, 2010
1:02 pm

Don’t want to sound negative, but when it comes to the Falcons, seein’s believin’.

extremus

July 30th, 2010
1:03 pm

A healthy Douglas will provide a much needed extra option for Matt Ryan this season, and if the offensive line improves I think that he and Michael Turner will improve hugely over last year’s disappointing numbers. Defensively I think Dunta Robinson will nullify many of the explosive pass plays that killed the falcons so often last year, and with Peria Jerry and Sean Weatherspoon present to take opposing teams’ focus off of double-teaming Abraham, look for him to bounce back in a big way.

This season could be a very special one indeed if A) everyone stays healthy and B) everyone plays with the sense of urgency and passion I think we can expect. GO FALCONS!!!!!

F-105 Thunderchief

July 30th, 2010
1:06 pm

Last year’s team was pretty gritty, gutting out nine wins with an avalanche of injuries. So, if they have better luck on that front this year, coupled with natural improvement and roster upgrades … well, I’m pretty flippin’ optimistic.

rekingball

July 30th, 2010
1:07 pm

jerry…….You just watch, and you’re goin to see what happens.

Rick Pitino

July 30th, 2010
1:10 pm

I don’t know anything about hot football camps, but I know some hot babes.

Double B

July 30th, 2010
1:11 pm

Taking my son to training camp in the am (first time for both of us) and am totally pumped. I know it will cost me a $100 jersey but that’s cool. I’m sure it will be a wonderful experience.

rekingball

July 30th, 2010
1:15 pm

I sawed what happened last year. The Falcons went 9-7, with a team of walking wounded, a kicker that lost his mojo in mid season, 3 games given to their opponents by the zebras, and still were very close to making the playoffs.
This team is tough!
12-4, you betcha! Watch em, now!

Skeezix

July 30th, 2010
1:15 pm

I protest! Call the United Nations! Johnny Venters is a political prisoner. MLB is in violation of the Geneva Conventions! Total Amnesty for Venters!

D Fence

July 30th, 2010
1:18 pm

Ah – this almost smells like my younger days at Ful Co during our glory period by falcon standards) of 79-83. Back when a NFL sunday afternoon game for a 10 year old was priceless. I do hope that we are really entering a new phase though this is a different league than before.

TruthSeeker

July 30th, 2010
1:19 pm

If we can get those first three games Bradley mentioned 2-1 then the schedule sets up for the Falcons to have a huge season. After the game at New Orleans in Week Three, I see only one game (at Philadelphia) where the Falcons will be a likely underdog. All the rest of the games that figure to be our toughest (Cincinnati, Baltimore, Green Bay, New Orleans) are in the Georgia Dome, where Matt Ryan has only lost one game as a starter in two years.

There’s always a lot of surprises during an NFL season, but 12 wins looks like a reachable goal to shoot for with this team.

robertussen

July 30th, 2010
1:24 pm

chris owens is in his 2nd year

robertussen

July 30th, 2010
1:26 pm

it’s jacksons 3rd year

Mets Fan

July 30th, 2010
1:26 pm

Who is choking now Braves fans?

Ruff Ruff Ruff

July 30th, 2010
1:26 pm

I wouldn’t say that we “whipped” the Jets. I saw Revis whip Roddy White all day. We won and that is important, but whipped?

E-Roll

July 30th, 2010
1:31 pm

Mark, go back and check your blog. You have Christopher Owens listed as a third year player.

Dr. Warren

July 30th, 2010
1:31 pm

10 wins seems reasonable when reviewing the schedule. But with the unpredictable NFL, I wouldn’t be surprised with 8-8 or 12-4, either. A losing record? With this coach and a healthy Turner? I seriously doubt it.

Bobby Valentine

July 30th, 2010
1:31 pm

Mets Fan your 6 1/2 back. Bite on that.

CSpin

July 30th, 2010
1:32 pm

Lcharles

July 30th, 2010
1:38 pm

Sam Baker and Christopher Owens as plums, Mark? You have to be kidding me. Baker has been greatly disappointing as a first round left tackle pick.

ombudsman

July 30th, 2010
1:40 pm

You need to do better research Bradley. You should know that Owens is entering is second season, not his third. I expect you to correct this egregious error.

GT Alum

July 30th, 2010
1:42 pm

Hey, MB, related to one of your previous blogs – did you hear that Venters’ suspension was thrown out? I guess MLB ended up agreeing with all the Braves fans who were upset by the suspensions.

Dr. Warren

July 30th, 2010
1:43 pm

Why is training camp so much easier these days? First session already over by 10:40 AM? Second session less than two hours long and sometimes just for special teams? Look, I’d want it that way, too, if I were a player, and I realize there’s more of a year-round conditioning program now, but in the days of Nobis and Bartkowski, Sanders and Tuggle, wasn’t training camp a way to toughen everyone up, like boot camp?

Truedat

July 30th, 2010
1:43 pm

Good job, Mark. Those Gamecocks on defense will lead the way.

falcons fan

July 30th, 2010
1:45 pm

anyone know if there is a a chance for fans to meet the players at training camp sessions?

Driver 8

July 30th, 2010
2:09 pm

Mark,

Came across this article on SI.com: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2010/writers/stewart_mandel/07/29/kiffin/index.html

The author references your recent take on Kiffin as Sports Most Hated Man

You’ve probably seen this but understanding you have limited connectivity today, I thought I’d pass it along. Kudos to you

papadawg

July 30th, 2010
2:11 pm

Remeber the day of 90+ degree heat with full pads so I don’t envy you guys at all

Mark Bradley

July 30th, 2010
2:23 pm

Christopher Owens is a second-year man. I made an egregrious error, which you were nice enough to correct.

Chief Hittabatta

July 30th, 2010
2:38 pm

Haha, hey, Mark, did Smitty really say that? If so, I love where this season is going!!

papa

July 30th, 2010
2:41 pm

It appears that the falcons are always talking and laying out there plans and still prouducing the same results average play in a watered down league.

Dwayne

July 30th, 2010
2:45 pm

Man, I was just thinking about last season. That schedule was brutal!! Four teams coming off of byes,our bye week in week four(way too early), and the fourth hardest schedule in the league but yet, we came away with nine wins with a lot of nagging injuries. I can defitnitely see 12 to 14 wins for this 2010 Falcons team. Hopefully Smitty will make all of the right decisions, which im sure he will. Those decisions being replacing Erik Coleman with William Moore, starting Chris Owens opposite Dunta Robinson, starting Sean Weatherspoon for Mike Peterson, and starting Kroy Bierman for Jamaal Anderson. If all of this takes place, then the Falcons will be very potent, opportunistic, and explosive both offensively and defensively. Shann Schiliger will be a special teams ace! Watch. Lets go Falcons!! Just think about it, Thomas DeCoud the ballhawk and William Moore the headhunter.. What yall think?

JOE

July 30th, 2010
2:46 pm

It is confusing at best to think that the Falcons didn’t wnat to have a balck QB in its roster and did away the best they could with DJ. The Falcons just used him up in training camps to dump him when it was clear they didn’t want him around anymore.

SeenThisB4

July 30th, 2010
2:47 pm

Hey falcant fans, where is Flowery Branch in relation to downtown Atlanta? Is that a suburb of Atlanta or another city in Georgia? Just curious.