FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – The Falcons have a pressing need at defensive coordinator. That doesn't mean they'll try to replace Dean Pees at warp speed.
The NFL has added some protocols designed to slow such hirings down a bit – it was previously a full-on sprint upon season's end -- which will allow for a more thorough and exhaustive search.
That suits head coach Arthur Smith just fine.
"We're going to take our time, which I think is important," Smith said. "There is familiarity with schemes [and people] you want to talk to, but we're not going to be close-minded about anything. I think it's important. I like the setup they have now. I think it helps. I don't feel rushed. In years past, if you're in this situation, you may feel rushed. Things have slowed down. We'll be mindful of that. I want to talk to a lot of different people; I have already talked to a few so far."
Smith will continue preliminary conversations that will lead to additional rounds of interviews and, finally, a new defensive play caller. There will be some natural defensive staffing changes that come with it, but finding the right person for the top job is most important now.
While anything's possible, it doesn't seem like the Falcons plan to to make a wholesale strategic change here. They were multiple and want to stay that way. While Pees used multiple fronts, including some unorthodox formations, the Falcons were a base 3-4 defense with hybrid players off the edge who could rush standing up or with a hand in the dirt. Smith also accurately referenced the fact defenses spend tons of time in sub packages, with four down lineman and extra defensive backs.
"Whether you have the hybrid guys we do or defensive ends for four-down fronts, that gets overstated sometimes," Smith said. "Really, it's about being flexible. There are a lot of guys in a lot of great schemes in this league. … When you're building a hybrid model, you're not looking for an overhaul. We've been building something here."
Smith used the Baltimore Ravens as an example of a franchise that built a defense right. They have been able to sustain success despite turnover at the coordinator spots – as a note, Pees called plays there for six seasons – without having to overhaul personnel.
"They've had a lot of different coordinators and a lot of success, and those guys have tweaked different things and made it their own, but the way they've drafted, with the vision to play multiple fronts, hasn't changed no matter who the play caller is," Smith said. "That foundation has been built."
Smith said it will be "refreshing" to speak with candidates from different schematic backgrounds and theories on how to run a defense.
At the same time, general manager Terry Fontenot pointed out that Smith understands good defense, in part because he knows what schemes impact him as an offensive mind.
"Arthur knows what he wants on defense," Fontenot said. "As a head coach and play caller, he doesn't stay on one side of the building and focus on the offense. He's involved in every phase, every area. He has always known what types of structure he wants. He knows what affects him as a play caller and what you struggle with. He knows what he wants a defense to look like. ... It's not like we're bringing in a new visionary of the defense and he's going to have a whole different – Arthur really knows what he's looking for."
Fontenot also knows what he and the Falcons are looking for regarding defensive personnel. He won't require wholesale changes because Pees stepped away and another defensive coordinator stepped in.
"We'll be strategic in that, and when we sign and draft players, we won't be prisoners of the moment," Fontenot said. "We're drafting players who can be multiple and fit what we're looking for."
We take a monochrome look at the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on January 8, 2023.