Falcons preseason notebook: Samuel brings intensity
Asante Samuel brings a newfound intensity to the Atlanta Falcons' defense.
By THE SPORTS XCHANGEFS South
Falcons' defense took a significant blow when head coach Mike Smith announced that linebacker Lofa Tatupu will miss the entire season with a torn pectoral muscle.
"As you know, Lofa suffered a pectoral injury last week," Smith said on the Falcons' website. "After testing, it was determined that he would require a procedure to repair the injury and unfortunately he will miss the entire season."
A three-time Pro Bowl selection, Tatupu was out of football last season after being released by the Seahawks. He has had a number of injury problems, including concussion issues that have hurt his career.
But the 29-year-old Tatupu signed to a two-year, $3.6 million contract with
Atlanta in March and was expected to compete with second-year linebacker Akeem Dent for the starting middle linebacker spot, which became available when Curtis Lofton signed with New Orleans.
--Cornerback Asante Samuel has single-handedly elevated the intensity of practices with his positive talking and good-natured ribbing of the offense.
Wide receiver Roddy White finally has someone to return his barbs.
"I love that guy," White said. "He's been here three weeks and I love him. He brings out the energy. He keeps the defense up high. A lot of people are doing a lot more talking since he's come out there. He's brought that spark that we needed on defense and we love him."
With the addition of Samuel, Dunta Robinson appears to be pretty happy, too.
"We are gelling as a secondary," Robinson said. "That's the most important thing to us. We are learning each other. Myself, (Brent) Grimes and Asante, we are learning how to play with each other. That was the most important thing going into training camp. We are getting comfortable with each other and we are having fun. That was the biggest thing."
Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan threw the kitchen sink at the offense during minicamp. He clearly has a mandate to improve the third-down defense.
"We feel that it's an honor that he feels he can rush seven or eight guys and he has confidence in his guys on the back end," Robinson said. "Pressure means the ball is coming out fast. That will give us an opportunity to make a lot of plays. We are ready for the opportunity."
--Former Howard University head coach Carey Bailey and Mississippi Valley State's assistant coach Ramon Flanigan will take part in the NFL's minority coaching fellowship program with the Falcons during training camp.
Bailey is currently the defensive line coach at Lamar and Flanigan is the offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach at Mississippi Valley State.
"As a coach, you want to give back to that fraternity in any way possible, so we are excited to have these two fine coaches joining us for training camp as part of the Bill Walsh Minority Coaching Fellowship," Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "This is a great opportunity for these coaches to be exposed to new ideas, not only in terms of X's and O's, but also philosophically."
Bailey, a former University of Tennessee standout, begins his first season as the defensive line coach at Lamar University after serving as the head coach at Howard University from 2007-10. Prior to taking the helm at Howard, Bailey spent two seasons as the defensive line coach at the University of Minnesota. He also served as the defensive line coach at Oklahoma State in 2004 and Middle Tennessee State in 2003. Bailey spent five seasons at Louisiana-Lafayette (1998-2002) coaching the defensive line, special teams and linebackers. His first coaching position came at Virginia Military Institute where he was defensive line coach from 1995-98.
Flanigan is entering his second season at Mississippi Valley State as the team's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Prior to arriving at MVSU, Flanigan spent the 2008 season as the wide receivers coach at Prestonwood Christian Academy and was the quarterbacks coach at Galveston Ball High School in 2009. He spent eight seasons as an assistant coach at the University of North Texas, including five as the program's offensive coordinator.
--Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter is not overly concerned that he won't get to see tight end Tony Gonzalez in the team's new offense until training camp.
Gonzalez has been excused from the team's mandatory minicamp because of the death of his stepfather of 25 years. Gonzalez has mostly stayed in California over the offseason, but was on hand for a couple of organized team activity sessions.
"Tony does most of his communications through coach (Chris) Scelfo, the tight ends coach, and coach (Mike) Smith," Koetter said Wednesday. "They have that contact with him."
Gonzalez, 36, is set to enter his 16th season in the NFL. The 12-time Pro Bowler holds most of the modern-day records for the position and caught 80 passes last season.
"I can't wait to be around him and spend more time with him," Koetter said. "Tony is proven and knows what he needs to do. Unfortunately, he's not here right now because of his family situation."
While there are some major changes to the playbook, Koetter doesn't expect Gonzalez to have a hard time picking things up.
"Tony is one of the greatest tight ends to ever play the game," Koetter said. "We are not re-inventing football out here. ... He's seen it all and done it all. We don't need to be worried about that. He'll be fine."
--Julio Jones, the second-year wide receiver, looked more polished this offseason.
"It's great, not only spending time with (wide receivers coach Terry) Robiskie, but with Matt (Ryan)," Jones said. "Just connecting on balls and knowing where I'm supposed to be at, at the right time and right depth. That's very critical for me."
--Kicker Erik Folk, an undrafted free agent from Washington, was signed Monday.
"He came in during the rookie minicamp and did a nice job," assistant special teams coach Eric Sutulovich said. "He's an accurate guy. He's got an opportunity to come in and prove himself."
Folk's older brother, Nick, kicks for the New York Jets.
--Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff, who has been consistently available to local and national media during the process of helping to lead the franchise into the playoffs three times in four seasons, has been selected as the 2012 Jack Horrigan Award winner by the Professional Football Writers of America (PFWA).
Dimitroff, the 39th Horrigan Award winner, is the first NFL general manager since 2006 and the third member of the Falcons franchise to receive the honor from the PFWA. Atlanta now has two Horrigan Award winners on staff as current Falcons President and CEO Rich McKay earned the award in 2005 when he was the club's general manager.
The Horrigan Award is given to the league or club official for his or her qualities and professional style in helping the pro football writers do their job.
Lofa Tatupu and Akeem Dent rotated working with the first-team defense during minicamp. They will battle in training camp to replace Curtis Lofton, who signed with the New Orleans Saints during free agency.
"Akeem is a young player that we're hoping just continues to mature and get better and better," defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said. "Hopefully, that's happening. I think 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 and he gets a lot of respect from the players around him."
The creative Nolan would not rule out both inside linebackers ending up on the field 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."
QUOTE TO NOTE
"Matt and I have spent a lot of time, when it became legal. We spent a lot of time watching tapes together. That is one of the good things I like most about Matt. Matt will look you in the eye and tell you how he sees it and how he thinks, and not B.S. you. By the same token, I can tell him what I think, what I see and what the coaching staff sees. He takes coaching well, but he also gives good feedback. You can't ask for better than that. I feel like Matt and I are going to be on the same page, will be on the same page and are on the same page." -- Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter on his relationship with quarterback Matt Ryan.