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Quotable: Head Coach Mike Smith


Opening Statement:
"I was extremely proud of the way our football team played yesterday. I think we all knew what was at stake and we went down and played a very effect game. I thought Brian VanGorder and his staff did a great job putting together a defensive game plan, and the players went out and executed it. I also that the offensive staff did a good job of preparing our guys and they stayed in the running game. I think in the third quarter we started taking over that game. I thought we physically won the battle. I'm also extremely excited for Mr.(Arthur) Blank and his family, and the city of Atlanta for us to get those back to back winning seasons. As I said earlier in the week, it was going to be a bye product of our preparation on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and I really felt that it was. Today, we're going to wrap up this Tampa Bay game. This afternoon, I'm going to turn my attention to 2010. Even as one season ends, another starts. I think it's going to be very, very important for us to use this game and the way we finish the 2009 season catapults into 2010."

Q. Can you talk about just how good this team was in 2009.
A. "We're going to have a wrap-up press conference on Monday with myself and Thomas (Dimitroff). I really thought we were going to be talking about the Tampa Bay game today. We're going to be spending the next week evaluating everything that we do as a staff and as an organization, and I think we'll be able to those questions more in depth next week at our end of the year press conference."

Q. Please talk about the run defense and how they did.
A. "I'm very proud of the way our defense played run defense through the second half of the season. Early in the season when we played in New England I felt that we did not handle the run game very well. It's been an emphasis point since we got here, that we were going to be able to stop the run the football. I think our guys have really gotten a very good understanding of it through the second half of the season. I think we fit the run much better and it's at the core of what we want to do defensively is be able to stop the run. The last quarter of the season, I thought we did it as well as anybody in the League."

Q. Can you talk about the run game yesterday?
A. "I think we executed the four-minute offense very well. I think we did a really good job in all situations. When I say situational football, I thought our two-minute drive right before the half was outstanding for us to score and operate under 10 seconds with the ball inside the 10-yard line. Then we also did a very good job when we were backed-up. We took the ball off of our 1-yard line and drove it down the field. Even though we didn't get points we drove it down into field goal range. We had the field goal blocked but that was a drive that was based on our run game. I thought that was the point where we really took over the ball game in terms of running the ball. In the four-minute drive, we took the ball over with four minutes and thirty-five seconds to go and were able to pound them with Jason Snelling running the football. I thought that Ovie Mughelli did a very good job blocking and the guys up front also on the line of scrimmage."

Q. With new guys on defense, does it typically take eight to ten weeks to get effective at defending the run?
A. "We certainly hope that it doesn't. I think there is a learning curve. We had two new starting linebackers. Even though Mike Peterson was familiar with our scheme, he was playing a position that he had not played for five years. We did have a change at the defensive tackle with Peria Jerry going down in the second game. In the Dallas game, Thomas Johnson went down. We did have some different parts in there, but we feel like we should be able to start defending the run from game run. It was a little longer learning curve than we anticipated, but I really felt the coaches kept the mindset that we were going to get it doen and our guys went out and executed."

Q. None of your players made the Pro Bowl. Can you give us your thoughts on that?
A. "I'm disappointed for a number of players on our team that did not get any Pro Bowl honors. I there were a number of guys that put in some outstanding individual efforts that deserved it, but I thought that there's a number of guys throughout the League that were probably deserving as well. It's very difficult. As we've said, this is a League with a lot of guys with ability. It's hard to differentiate who's number one, who's number two, who's number three, and who's number four. It's such a fine line. There were a number of guys that didn't make it that I thought were very deserving."

Q. Can you talk about Jason Snelling's performance?
A. "Jason Snelling, I think, had an outstanding year. With the injuries, first to Jerious Norwood early in the season, aloud him an opportunity to play. Then when Michael Turner went down he had to step in and get more reps there. He also had to play a couple of games at the fullback position when we lost Ovie Mughelli. Jason does a number of things extremely well. His skill set allows him to play both the tailback and the fullback. He's been a very valuable member of our team this year."

Q. Can you talk about your secondary and how the interceptions helped you guys?
A. "The two interceptions by our two cornerbacks was very big for us. The one by Chris Owens I think was very, very timely, and it was after we had turned the football over around mid-field. Then on a third down play he was able to come up with the interception and give us very good field position and aloud us to change the momentum. I think that was a big momentum change. Of course, Brent Grimes' interception in the end zone was a very big play as well. Those two young corners, I thought through the last quarter of the season, I thought progressed very well and I think it bodes well for us in the future to have those guys get the experience they got here at the end of the season, especially Chris Owens. In terms of turnovers, turnovers are paramount in deciding the outcome of a game. I thought in the first five games of the season we were very good at taking the ball away and protecting it. I think defensively at the at the end of the season in the last quarter, we got back to creating turnovers. I think that helped us down the stretch to win those last three games."

Q. Can you talk about your final meeting with the team and the message you'll take into the offseason?
A. "I don't really want to get in depth about it, but the theme of the meeting was that we didn't get what we set out to do. You get what you earn in the League. I say it all the time. We were 9-7. That didn't give us an opportunity to play on into the tournament. We all, starting with me, have got to be better and do things better. I told them, that this is my second year as a head coach and I made a lot of mistakes, they made a lot of mistakes. We have got to make sure that we evaluate everything that we do from top to bottom in terms of how we can get better. That's the main message that we had today. Of course the second thing was giving them the schedule on when we're going to reconvene and get back together. Then the third thing was that we want to all unplug. It's been a very long season. Since we started back in July, it's been approximately one hundred fifty-five days that we've been working very, very hard. Our bodies, coaches included, need some rest. We want those guys to unplug four to six weeks and relax. Their minds might be telling them to get back into the weight room, but they need to take that time to off, unplug, enjoy their families, and stay away from football. We'll have plenty of time to get back when we start back in March. We would like our guys to at least take four to six weeks and just relax as much as they possibly can."

Q. Any mistakes in particular you learned from this year?
A. "I think there's a lot of things. I think every game I critique myself; some of the things in time management, and some of the things in strategy. I think as a Head Coach that's what you have to do. In terms of preparation, how we schedule things, how we do things. I think I continue to get a better feel of how we want to practice and knowing when guys need to get rest. This is a very long season; it's a marathon. I think it's something that I will and I have gotten better at, and I Think it's something we can improve on."

Q. Was there any one player or a group of players that exceeded your expectations?
A. "I really feel that our young players, our draft class, in the second half of the season really started to come one strong. I really think that's attributed to our scouting department and the evaluation that we as coaches get involved in. I think those young guys like Christopher Owens, Spencer Adkins, and Lawrence Sidbury. Even though our first and second round draft picks were injured and did not get to play, I thought we got a lot of good play out of our young players. We got to get a good look at our big, young offensive lineman, Garrett Reynolds. Vance Walker, our seventh round draft pick, ended up playing about two hundred and fifty snaps. That's almost a quarter of the snaps. As far as the defensive line is concerned, that's a lot since we try to rotate our defensive linemen. I was very impressed with the young guys. I was also impressed with the improvement of our class from last year. Even thought Harry Douglas did not play, and I thought that Matt (Ryan) progressed very well. Curtis Lofton continues to come into his own as a middle linebacker. Sam Baker, I thought, had a very solid season at the left tackle position and Chevis Jackson ended up having a number of snaps at the nickel position for us. I think it's very good, but I think a time that we probably need to talk about that is next week."

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