The great thing about becoming a winning franchise that drafts well (as many believe the Falcons now are) is that opportunities to create depth abound.
With the good comes the bad, and one of the toughest things for a coach to do is tell a player his time with his current team is up. Falcons head coach Mike Smith shared recently this year, as the preseason enters into the roster cuts season, is particularly difficult. He felt every player on his roster was working hard to impress.
To sustain success a team must figure out how to harness what got them there and continue to recreate it. Atlanta has continued to stock a roster with talent through the draft and free agency, but as the years mount, players that were thought highly of even a year ago must continue to play at a high level to make the roster. Each year brings new talent and the existing talent must match it or move along.
Every player has to believe he's doing the best he can or he's a lost cause before he even steps on the field.
The same season the Falcons selected defensive tackle Peria Jerry in the first round they selected Vance Walker, at the same position, in the seventh. One season later they selected Corey Peters in the third round. As the talent on the defensive line has grown, Walker has had to continue to take advantage of every opportunity he's gotten to continue to show coaches he's a viable depth option for this team.
Last Saturday night against the Steelers, with the injured Peters out, Walker recorded a sack. The former Georgia Tech standout tries to maximize every snap he's on the field.
"I always make the most of what I get whether it's an extra two reps or all the reps," he said. "But at the same time we've got a really good rotation at defensive tackle with Corey even if he was not hurt. I don't think my reps will diminish or get any greater. I think it's always going to be solid depending on what defensive tackles we've got in there."
While Walker is likely to make the final cut, his sack didn't hurt his cause. Smith said on Wednesday that what a player does on the field in game situations will always supersede anything done in practice.
"You've got to weight what they do in a game much more heavily than what they do in practice," Smith said. "Oftentimes out here in practice there may be a coach in their ear from the sideline or another player. When you're out there, there's no coaches inside that 53-and-a-third yards that the guys play on. We definitely weight the games much more heavily than in practice."
Of course, a player must practice well, but at the end of the day (or the game) what happened on the actual playing field is what makes or breaks you. The Falcons under Smith have established themselves as a franchise that drafts football players, not players who are Combine standouts or workout freaks. The all-important football IQ is highly valued by this organization.
It's a tough time of the year to be a coach. This year, especially, because there are only four preseason games off which to base much of the decisions. Smith shared that there will always be doubts.
"I'll be honest with you, when we go through this process you're going to be thinking in the back of your mind 'Am I making the right decision?' because you don't have as much information as you would normally have when you make these decisions," he said. "But you've got to make them and you've got to move forward."