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Cut from the same cloth: The connection that solidified Ryan Nielsen's move to Atlanta

Arthur Smith and Ryan Nielsen's coaching careers may have never overlapped before 2023, but they still speak the same language. 

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- When Ryan Nielsen took the podium for his very first news conference as the Falcons newest defensive coordinator on Monday afternoon, his words - as well as his mannerisms - felt familiar, eerily so.

Nielsen's first meeting with local media wasn't loud or robust. His tone was no-nonsense and deliberate. His answers weren't filled with flowery language nor were too many hopeful promises sprinkled throughout.

The near 20 minutes in which he spoke were filled with ambition and passion, though. You felt it when he talked about his philosophy as a coach. He used words like: "Hard. Tough. Physical. Aggressive." He added even more emphasis and bravado to each punctuated word.


When asked how he planned to help Atlanta generate a consistent and productive pass rush, Nielsen said simply and without further explanation: "We'll get it going." He paused, deadpan. Then smiled, but only slightly, as the pause lengthened and reporters realized he wasn't going to continue that answer and they needed to ask a follow-up.

His press conference was one that let the media into his head for the first time, but Nielsen was in control of what information he allowed to be probed. He wouldn't go too deep into his plans for the Falcons defensive scheme, saying he doesn't particularly care what anyone calls the front the Falcons ultimately choose to run out there come the start of the 2023 season. A 3-4, a 4-3, whatever: "I'll call it: Let's Stop People," Nielsen said.

He gave solid, quotable answers without giving too much of anything away at all, and he did so efficiently.

When he ended the news conference and walked away from the podium and out the door, it took but a moment to realize why he - Nielsen - felt oh so familiar.

He's cut from the same cloth as Arthur Smith. Everything he said on Monday proved it.

Atlanta Falcons head coach Arthur Smith is seen on the sideline during the first quarter against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia on Sunday, January 8, 2023. (Photo by Brandon Magnus/Atlanta Falcons)

Nielsen began his football career as a college player, a hard-nose defensive lineman at USC from 1997 to 2001. At the end of Nielsen's college career, Smith was beginning his, only he was on the other side of the country attending UNC as a hard-nose offensive lineman.

These separate but mirroring beginnings shaped the men into who they are today. It was a time when their coaching philosophies began to mold and morph. As players, they both had an identity in physicality. As coaches, they instill the same.

It's a beginning that put Smith (40) and Nielsen (43) on a crash course towards one another because of their (formerly unbeknownst to them) like-mindedness. It's a course that collided in Atlanta, with Smith the head coach and offensive play-caller, and Nielsen the next defensive coordinator.

There's something almost uncanny about Smith and Nielsen's way-of-thinking about the game, how its a game that is won or lost in the battle for the line of scrimmage. It's a bit unnerving how similar Nielsen's first press conference in Atlanta was in comparison to Smith's two years ago when he was officially announced as the Falcons next head coach.

When asked about an identity, Nielsen said he wants to see aggression from his defense. That's not unlike what Smith wants from his offense.

"We have a certain standard we want to play with," Smith said in his introductory press conference at the beginning of 2021. "We're going to play physical and with great effort. I know a lot of people say that but that will be our hallmark."

Smith talked then about setting a standard at the line of scrimmage. Nielsen did the same on Monday.

"In everything we're going to do we're going to attack," Nielsen said. "In all phases of the defense, attack at every position."

Smith talked about a foundation.

So did Nielsen.

"We will have a foundation up front and there are core beliefs we have in terms of running the football," Smith said, "but we are not going to be rigid... The whole thing is you're constantly trying to improve your football team and I'm constantly trying to improve myself as a coach."

"Coach Smith has a great foundation and all we want to do is just build on that," Nielsen said. "Let's raise this defense every day, just a little bit better and a little bit better. And if we can do that as a coaching staff and players from OTAs to training camp to the season, what you really have to look at is the beginning of the season to the end of the season. Did we get better from Game 1 to Game 17? That's really important."

Smith, talking about the line of scrimmage: "We want to be great up front."

Nielsen, talking about the line of scrimmage: "We want to be going forward and attacking."

Their coaching philosophies run parallel with one another, and they both felt that during their first few conversations as Nielsen interviewed for the defensive coordinator position a few weeks ago.

"There are other things that we talked about, too, like how he believes in the weight room, in practice, all these things, and I'm like: 'This is exactly what I like. This is awesome,'" Nielsen described. "... everything that he was saying, his beliefs, his philosophies, it was very easy. When he offered (me the job), I about jumped through the phone to say, 'I'm in. Let's go.'"

For Smith and Nielsen, though they have never coached together up to this point in their careers, they carry with them the same coaching philosophy. They want to develop the line of scrimmage. They want to strengthen it. They have a certain conviction about the level of play at that particular part of the field.

As former linemen on opposite sides of the ball as players, as current coaches who have based their entire careers on mean, nasty, consistent and productive play at the line of scrimmage, Smith and Nielsen speak the same language. It's the language of a lineman, and it's one they hope revolutionizes the future of the Falcons as the organization heads into a new chapter.

Join us as we take a look back at our favorite photos of our home, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, during the 2022 Atlanta Falcons season.

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