Throughout the offseason, I will be fielding your questions about all things Falcons and trying to give you the best answers I can. If you would like to submit a question to be included in the Friday Mailbag, check out my profile on Formspring.me. If you asked a question this week and don't see the answer below, fear not. They may appear in future mailbag posts.
Question: Will the Falcons use free agency to help with the O-line issues?
Answer: This is a great question. Free agency, for those of us who painfully recall the lockout last year, takes place before the NFL Draft this year, just like it has in normal years, and that's a huge advantage for teams. I imagine a lot of teams had to do things in the draft last year that they may not have done had free agency occurred when it normally does. The free agency period begins March 13, when the new league year begins and current contracts run out. The Falcons are sitting in an interesting position with not having a first-round or fourth-round pick in the upcoming draft, since both those picks were part of a trade to move up last year and select Julio Jones. Therefore, free agency will be a key period for Atlanta. There are certainly plenty of good linemen that are set to hit the market when free agency begins and many of them would help strengthen the Falcons' front. The coaching staff and front office are hard at work determining what their plan of action will be once March 13 rolls around, and you can rest assured that they'll assess all positions in figuring out what they'll add and from where.
Questions: Looking at 2011 vs. 2010, we went down about 20 spots in ranking with our offensive line. Watching the last few games, we got dominated on 3rd-and-short because we couldn't penetrate with the OL. Do you think spreading out our weapons and our RBs will help?
Answer: It's an interesting idea, for sure, but I think what's going to help the offensive line the most is the addition of former Fresno State head coach Pat Hill to the coaching staff to take over the Falcons' offensive front. Hill is about as sound a coach as you can find. He's old school in his approach and he's very much focused on technique. A tough, tough guy himself, he'll instill that same quality in his offensive linemen. Keep an eye out: The attitude among the front five will be a huge storyline heading into 2012. Of course, we saw during the playoffs when the Falcons were dubbed as "dirtbags" by the Giants' Justin Tuck. So, while the 2011 offensive line certainly was able to push some people around, the numbers suggest improvements can be made, and the "killer instinct," so to speak, will be given to them by Hill.
Question: I have noticed that our secondary is struggling and in the upcoming draft there are a load of options, several projected to go late in the second round. Will we get someone to help our defensive secondary out or will we draft for another offensive weapon?
Answer: You're absolutely right — the 2012 NFL Draft is going to be loaded with solid cornerbacks, and fortunately enough, many of them are projected to be there when the Falcons pick at No. 55 overall. The draft, however, is a bit of a premature subject right now because there are still so many question marks. First of all, the Combine takes place in Indianapolis next week, and those performances will go a long way toward clearing up which prospects are truly projected to go where. Second of all, free agency will play a huge role in what teams will do come late April. Unlike last year, teams will be able to pick from the vast crop of free agents to fill holes before the draft rolls around, so while teams go into both periods with a list of needs, many of them get taken care of during the free agency period, which gives them more flexibility in the draft. Whether or not there will be a cornerback there at No. 55 that the Falcons value remains to be seen, as there are so many things that need to happen beforehand, but it'll be fun to watch us get to that point.
Question: What's going on with Peria Jerry? He had a very disappointing 2011 season, after playing fairly well in the first few games. However, after the third game of the season, it seemed like Jerry virtually disappeared, even getting out-played by Vance Walker.
Answer: Peria Jerry certainly gets his share of the spotlight, and that's to be expected from a first-round pick. The expectations are always high on players who are among the first 32 players selected in any draft, and Jerry is no exception. Jerry's career thus far, however, has been anything but stable. Coming into 2011, Jerry was only one year removed from a significant knee injury that marred his rookie season and put him on a path that players certainly don't like to take. Jerry has, however, made significant progress since then and he continues to do so. The coaching staff loves Jerry's toughness and resolve, especially in the face of returning from a tough injury. He made a great heads-up play against Philadelphia, forcing a fumble that allowed Ray Edwards to pick it up and nearly return it for a TD. That play really paved the way for the Falcons to win that game. While Corey Peters has come in and earned the starting job opposite Jonathan Babineaux, Jerry has an opportunity to continue to make an impact in Atlanta.
Question: What do you think the Atlanta Falcons need to do in order to work towards being a Super Bowl champion-type team?
Answer: That work began nearly immediately after the playoff loss to the Giants and has been ongoing ever since, and will continue to move forward until the team takes the field for the first game of the regular season. Head coach Mike Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff have done solid work already, filling out a coaching and scouting staff that saw some departures, and there's more work for them that lies ahead. Coaches and the front office are going over their strategies for free agency and the draft, and next week's Combine in Indianapolis is the first step toward getting the 2012 season officially underway. This is a front office and coaching staff that has a sense of urgency when it comes to winning. As was said during the postseason press conference, the goal isn't just to win or make the playoffs anymore; It's to win in the playoffs and earn a Super Bowl title. That's a goal everyone here takes very seriously and one that everyone in every department is working toward.