Smith likes what he has in new coordinators
Falcons coach Mike Smith is high on his new coordinators and expects them to provide the boost that the team needs to be successful in the playoffs.
With the team re-signing most of its key free agents in defensive ends John Abraham and Kroy Biermann, safety Thomas DeCoud, wide receiver Harry Douglas, center Todd McClure, backup quarterback Chris Redman and running back Jason Snelling, they clearly believe that they have the right players to make a deep playoff run.
However, Brent Grimes, has been tagged as a franchise player and they did lose middle linebacker Curtis Lofton, their leading tackler, to New Orleans and kick returner Eric Weems to Chicago.
Smith is counting on defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter and offensive line coach Pat Hill to squeeze more juice out of the same fruit that Brian VanGorder, Mike Mularkey and Paul Boudreau were working with.
Under former defensive coordinator VanGorder, the Falcons regularly went with a 3-3-5 alignment on third down. That didn't work out as well as they couldn't mount a consistent pass rush or cover all zone sectors in coverage. The team finished ranked 29th in third-down efficiency last season.
Nolan has played both the 4-3 and 3-4 alignments. Smith has repeatedly alluded to the fact that they will be more "multiple" under Nolan on third downs.
"We are very excited about the additions to our coaching staff," Smith said. "On the defensive side of the ball we have a new defensive coordinator in Mike Nolan, who's got 14 years experience as a coordinator and 24 years in the NFL as an assistant coach.
"Mike is a guy that I worked for in Baltimore, so I have a very good understanding of what he brings to the table. Mike is going to bring a new dynamic to our defense, giving it s some flexibility in terms of being a little bit more multiple with his background in the 3-4 defense. He's a very good third-down coach in terms of his third-down efficiency."
The Falcons were 29th in the league in third-down efficiency last season.
Offensively, they will have open competition at all of the spots. They re-signed center Todd McClure, who'll have to hold off a challenge from third-year man Joe Hawley. They signed Vince Manuwai to compete at right guard.
The unit must improve in short-yardage situations and protect Matt Ryan long enough in order to run the deep vertical passing attack that Koetter plans to install.
"(The) vertical passing game is probably the thing that he is most strong in and it's something that we want to work on," Smith said. "We feel like that we want to get the ball down the field a little bit more with our two wide receivers and our tight end. Dirk has brought in a new perspective."
Smith also plans to do his part after going 0-3 in the playoffs. He wants to have his team peaking at the end of the season with the hopes of a stronger playoff showing.
"You want to be peaking at the right time," Smith said. "December and January is when you want to be playing your best football. Unfortunately, we haven't done that. We haven't played as well as we need to in the postseason. That's something that starts with me and we have got to look at how we prepare our guys."
-With Curtis Lofton joining divisional New Orleans, the Falcons are expecting third-year linebacker Sean Weatherspoon to step into that leadership void.
"Sean is a very verbal player and well-respected even though he's only been in the league two years," Smith said.
Smith thinks he's set everywhere else in the leadership department.
"We've got a number of what I call mentors," Smith said. "On the offensive side of the ball you've got Tony Gonzalez. We were able to sign Todd McClure back (on Tuesday) which I think is a very positive move for us in terms of leadership. You've got Michael Turner and Matt Ryan. So, I think offensively we've got a number of guys that know how we do things in Atlanta and (know) what we're looking for."
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Falcons plan to have open competition along the offensive line.
At left tackle, a healthy Sam Baker will try to reclaim his spot from Will Svitek. At left guard, Justin Blalock doesn't appear to have any major competition. Center Todd McClure will battle Joe Hawley. At right guard, Vince Manuwai must beat out Mike Johnson and Garrett Reynolds. Right tackle Tyson Clabo must hold off Andrew Jackson and Reynolds.
The unit has to get better in short-yardage situations and hold up longer in pass protections if they are going to institute the deep vertical passing attack of offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter.
The center battle is the one to watch because if McClure holds up, Hawley, who was sturdy while starting 10 games at right guard last season, could slide to one of the guard spots.
OUOTE TO NOTE
"They've tried to replace me ever since I've been here. I've always come out on top. I tell my family, I'm the best investment Arthur Blank has ever made. I know he's made a lot of money at Home Depot and in other ventures, but for the price, I've been the highest yield. I play for cheap and I'm always consistent. I'm just going to do what I've always done. If I'm a starter, I am. If not, then I will support Joe Hawley. But I'm going out and giving them everything that I have." -- Falcons center Todd McClure on battling to keep his starting job after re-signing a one-year deal with the Falcons.