In his first two years as head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, Mike Smith has done something no other coach before him had done for this franchise, have back-to-back winning seasons. As a lifelong Atlanta Falcons fan, these last two seasons have been a breath of fresh air after what we went through with the Michael Vick saga. The hiring of Thomas Dimitroff as the general manager and Smith as head coach were the two best things Arthur Blank could have done to steer his franchise back in the right direction. It is great to see that the owner of my favorite team has a plan because all too often owners do not (see Al Davis with the Raiders.) That same year, the Falcons lured Michael Turner to Atlanta and drafted a franchise quarterback, in Matt Ryan. After starting off the ‘09 season with a 4-1 record, the Falcons managed to only win five out of their last eleven games. As luck will have it, both Ryan and Turner were injured and others had to step in to play in their absence. Fortunately for the Falcons, Ryan was able to come back and win the last three games of the season to secure their first back-to-back winning seasons in franchise history. The Falcons are now entering year three of Blank’s plan and things seem to be going in the right direction. Initially, I wondered why Mike Smith was hired but now I know he was the right fit.
Mike Smith joined WQXI in Atlanta to talk about his impression of what he saw in mini-camp, Michael Turner being healthy and his new playing weight, and whether he is surprised to hear Matt Ryan say that we are closer to twelve or thirteen victories.
His impression of what he saw in mini camp:
“I saw a lot of energy and a lot of young guys that are confused, but I think that is par for the course, there is no doubt about that… Yeah we threw a lot at them. I don’t know if it was true deer in the headlights look but ‘I got it. I got it.’ And they go out there and line up on the wrong side. We will get them back here in a week and we are looking forward to refocusing on them and we will get them ready because in mini-camp again our rookies will have four practices and what we will do is we will do is install the same thing we installed in those five practices and we will just do it in four.”
On the young players needing to understand the terminology and knowing that there is a lot of work that needs to be done:
“Well there was a lot of learning going on. In fact, where do I get dressed? Where is my locker? Where is the training room? Where is the cafeteria? Then we are going to stretch and then we are going to start talking about the X’s and O’s beyond that.”
Whether he has sat around and looked at the other teams in the NFC South and how their draft was:
“I know that Thomas and his staff have spent more time on that. As soon as we got finished with the draft we had to add some free agents and then we were in preparation for training camp. I know that the teams in our division, according to the experts, had pretty good drafts. So we will spend a lot more time over the next couple of weeks before our players come back when we start out OTA’s evaluating what those guys have done.”
Whether Sean Weathersppon can be a three down player:
“Well I don’t think that there is any doubt. We can consider him a four down player because of his ability to run and play on special teams as well. Sean, this weekend, got indoctrinated in two positions. We have started cross training him right from day one. He took both snaps at Sam and Will in our base defense and also played the backer in Dime in our sub-defense.”
On Michael Turner being healthy and his new playing weight:
“Well it is very, very nice to see your top running back out there going full speed, there is no doubt about that. There is a comfort level that you definitely have when you know that he is healthy. Mike has worked very hard this offseason. People have asked ‘Is he lighter this year than he was last year?’ and the answer is, yes, and Mike will admit to that. His season last year or two years ago was a longer season than he ever participated in. He only had two-hundred and fifty-five carries in his first five years, he had three hundred and seventy-two in ’08. Along with that the season was extended with the playoffs and the Pro Bowl. He went to the Pro Bowl so he is playing all the way up until February, he did not get an opportunity to think that he could workout like he would have liked to. This year is a whole different deal. He has been rehabbing everyday with our training staff as well as Jeff Fish and he looked, I thought, very, very good. There was one specific play that stands out in my mind, the screen pass that we threw to him that he was able to stick his foot into the ground, the one that he injured, and he really showed that explosiveness that we are used to seeing.”
Whether he is surprised to hear Matt Ryan say that we are closer to twelve or thirteen victories:
“I am not surprised at that. I think what Matt was saying that he wasn’t given any guarantees, there wasn’t any statements. I think he was asked a question and he answered it as we were closer to twelve or thirteen than we were to eight wins. We are very confident. This is our third year and our guys are a group of men that have been together. So we should come into the season a lot more confident than we were in year one or two.”
Tags: Arthur Blank, Atlanta Falcons, back-to-back winning seasons, defensive-minded coach, franchise quarterback, Matt Ryan, Michael Turner, Mike Smith, NFC Football, NFC South, NFL Football, Thomas Dimitroff