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Offseason Of Opportunity


The press conference Falcons owner & chairman Arthur Blank, general manager Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Mike Smith held on Wednesday was about opportunity.

A range of feelings from frustration and disappointment with how the 2011 season ended were shared, but the focus, as has always been the case under the regime, is about moving ahead to turn a franchise that has been a perennial winner in the last four seasons into a team that can sit alone at the top of the NFL.

"This organization is about greatness," Smith said. "That's what we want to do. We want to be a great football team, not a good football team that just makes the playoffs."

Blank expressed disappointment in how the season played out, but stressed he stands behind the two leaders of his football operations. He agrees with the comprehensive and diagnostic evaluation that Dimitroff and Smith will undergo this offseason to improve a football team that has a strong foundation already in place.

"They'll do everything they can in their power to move us to the next level," Blank said. "I have complete faith and confidence in their abilities to do so."

The opportunity to improve is found within the structure of change that is ahead of them. Both of the team's coordinators have departed for other jobs and the franchise can bring in new coordinators with ideas to take the team to the next level.

Dimitroff spoke of the 17 free agents the team has on the books currently and what directions the re-signing of certain free agents can take them.

The general manager said an early estimate on the number of free agents that may return is eight. The decisions that await, Dimitroff said, won't always be popular but, but they will be made with the best interest of the Falcons in mind.

Though Dimitroff wouldn't speculate on what players the eight could be, which include starters like MLB Curtis Lofton, C Todd McClure and CB Brent Grimes, he did say the players that may be re-signed will be instrumental in the makeup of the team moving forward.

"Ultimately, we'd like to bring back who we believe are our core football players right now," Dimitroff said.

None of the decision-makers present on Wednesday wanted to discuss the specifics of the search for a new offensive and defensive coordinator, but Smith said they hope to make decisions sooner rather than later as they begin to form their team for the 2012 season. He added that all decisions would be made privately, but they know what they're looking for, specifically on offense.

"There's a skill set and certain criteria that we have in place that we're going to look at in candidates," the head coach said. "We know what our quarterback is capable of doing and what he has done successfully so obviously we would want to make sure the candidate is in line with the thinking of what we want to do as an offense."

New blood in the coaching staff is seen as yet another potential opportunity for the upcoming season. Blank explained that, although the Falcons have been successful in recent seasons, new ideas are not something to run from. The potential of new coordinators brings the franchise a unique advantage combined with the presence of a full offseason this year, unlike in 2011.

"Sometimes it's healthy to have someone on the outside look at it as well, to confirm your thinking or ask some questions that you are not asking," Blank said. "I think that'll be healthy for us this year."

Smith took ownership of the way his team played this season and said between he and Dimitroff, they will closely scrutinize every player on a roster of players that he said didn't always play with the chemistry, enthusiasm and consistency needed to be an elite-level franchise.

The head coach shared the knowledge that he's responsible for the product on the field and the outside noise about on-field decisions and coaching hot seats doesn't phase him. His focus remains to prepare his team to the capabilities of their talent and go out and win.

"There's pressure and focus every time we go out and play, from game one to game 67," Smith said. "I understand what my job is. My job is to have our football team perform. When guys don't block and miss tackles, ultimately there's one person who is held responsible for that and that's me. I put more pressure on myself than anybody could possibly put on me. That doesn't concern me one bit."

None of the three that spoke on Wednesday can change how 2011 unfolded and ended, just as they couldn't change things in previous seasons once they'd been played out. All three expressed enthusiasm for the road that is ahead and the opportunities to continue to create a product that the organization and its fans can be proud of.

As they look to an offseason of change and opportunity, a callous approach, balancing loyalty and evaluation of on-field performance will be taken. Everything from top to bottom will be reviewed in hopes that frustration like that experienced during last season will be avoided in the coming years.

Blank said he wants Dimitroff, Smith and the fans of the Falcons to enjoy next season and beyond.

"The level of frustration that I have or (Smith and Dimitroff) have is higher than it's been in the past," he said. "This is not fun. We need to turn it into more fun for all of us."

The upcoming season, for everyone with an investment in the Falcons, isn't about knocking on the door of greatness any more. It's about stepping inside and making their presence felt. The official close of the 2011 season opens the door for opportunities in 2012.

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