Hill hopes to improve Falcons' offensive line
Stealing a page from San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, the Falcons have to get their "nasty" back along the offensive line.
The person elected to assign that task is former Fresno State head coach Pat Hill, who previously coached in the NFL in the 1990s at Cleveland and Baltimore.
Hill was dazzlingly successful at Fresno State where he led the Bulldogs to a 112-80 overall record and went to 11 bowl games. Hill led Fresno State to 15 wins over BCS teams during the last decade, which is the highest win total of any non-BCS team in the nation.
Hill spent five seasons as an offensive line/tight ends coach in the NFL. Hill joined the Cleveland Browns in 1992 and spent four seasons (1992-95) in the organization, coaching tight ends and offensive line in addition to working in the personnel department evaluating players.
The offensive line had a dropoff last season under former line coach Paul Boudreau. The left tackle and right guard positions were problematic.
After getting off to a bad start, Sam Baker had in-season back surgery and gave way to Will Svitek. Garrett Reynolds opened the season as the starter at right guard, but was replaced midway through the season by Joe Hawley.
The unit also struggled in short-yardage situations. Hill has thoroughly reviewed last season's film.
"Offensively, they moved the ball (well) with a lot of regularity," Hill said. "They ran a very sophisticated scheme. From a mental standpoint, I thought it was a heck of a group. Right now, my main focus is working on fundamentals."
Hill would not acknowledge that the unit struggled in short-yardage situations.
"I don't really know too much about that," Hill said. "One thing that I've learned from 15 years as a head coach, I don't read the paper too much. I didn't spend a lot of time on the short-yardage tape. I've been spending a lot of time on the protections and the other things, so I really can address that."
Hill believes his approach will not have to change much on his return to the NFL.
"I didn't come here to split the atom," Hill said. "I came here to work on fundamentals. At this level, you really have a chance to tweak a person's game. It's like being a swing coach for a golfer."
Hill believes the team's line can improve with better techniques.
"Here you are dealing with seven guys," Hill said. "In college, you might be dealing with 15 or 18 and it's really a cookie cutter deal. Here, you're trying to develop technique to help each one of your players get better.
"That's what the great challenge is about in pro football. Like when I was in Cleveland and Baltimore, you have the same guys over and over, every day. So you have a lot of time to tweak their technique. In college, you are just trying to get ready for the next game. You are trying to get 15 or 16 guys to develop. Here you have a chance to really work on the fundamentals."
There are some parts of the college game that he won't miss.
"You are a teacher," Hill said. "That's what this profession is all about, teaching. There is a lot less to deal with outside of football at this level. It's really enjoyable."
--Wide receiver Julio Jones, sporting his new haircut, continued to shine in the workouts.
"There is a little less weight on the top of his head with his dreads gone, but he's had a very good camp for us as you saw today," coach Mike Smith said. "He made some very nice catches and he's been making those types of catches all through camp."
For Jones, cutting his hair was about more than just a new look.
Gone are the dreadlocks that were a trademark for the Falcons wide receiver through his first year in Atlanta and his collegiate career at Alabama.
Jones cut his hair and donated it to a charity that helps children with cancer.
"We do a lot of community service here, and from going to a lot of hospitals and seeing all the kids who are fans of mine, I just cut my hair and donated it for leukemia patients," Jones said Wednesday.
Jones said he has run into a number of people who double-take in his direction, unsure if he is really the Falcons receiver. There are no plans to grow his hair out again.
"I like the new look," he said.
--Left tackle Sam Baker, left guard Justin Blalock, center Joe Hawley, right guard Garrett Reynolds and right tackle Tyson Clabo ran with the first unit.
Left tackle Will Svitek, left guard Andrew Jackson, center Peter Konz, right guard Vince Manuwai and right tackle Mike Johnson made up the second line.
Left tackle Bryce Harris, left guard Phillip Manley, center Tyler Horn, right guard Peter Konz and right tackle Andrew Jackson made up the third unit.
When the Falcons used their first two draft picks this year on offensive linemen, center Todd McClure didn't waste any time offering his help to the rookies.
The center, entering his 15th NFL season, is used to competition for his job. It's been that way since he entered the league. Nevertheless, he understands the position of Konz and Holmes.
"I've dealt with it my whole career, young guys coming in, and I've always said I'll try to teach as much as I can," McClure said. "Kind of pay it forward. I told those guys when they came in, if you have any questions don't hesitate to ask because we are making our team better. If I can teach those guys little things that can help this team win games, that's what I'm here for."
--The Falcons re-examined offensive tackle Lamar Holmes' injured left toe and decided to hold the team's third-round draft pick out until the start of training camp in late July.
The Falcons previously hoped that Holmes, the 91st pick overall, would be ready to practice by the team's minicamp, which is set for June 19-21.
"Lamar Holmes will not participate in the rest of the offseason program," Falcons coach Mike Smith said after Wednesday's non-contact drills. "We are going to be very precautionary."
Holmes is making progress and was walking without a boot.
Smith also noted that defensive tackle Corey Peters (foot) would not be available to training camp.
"(Linebacker) Stephen Nicholas (toe) is still progressing with his procedure where he missed some time last season as well," Smith said.
Also, defensive end Cliff Matthews was out with an undisclosed injury.
--Cornerback Asante Samuel, who had a previous engagement, was not at practice along with defensive end John Abraham and tight end Tony Gonzalez. Samuel took part in Tuesday's session.
QUOTE TO NOTE
"I love to coach. I don't have a lot of hobbies." -- Falcons offensive line coach Pat Hill on why he elected to return to the NFL to coach after a 15-year stint at Fresno State.