Head Coach Mike Smith
"First I'd like to reiterate how happy I am for Mr. Blank, the city of Atlanta, and all the Falcons fans for us getting back to back winning seasons. With that being said, I'd also like to say that we're very disappointed that we did not win enough ballgames to make the playoffs. Ultimately, that is the goal that we set forth each and every year. I think that we have accomplished a lot this season, but we weren't consistent enough. I think that's one of the big things that we're going to have to improve on, is becoming a more consistent football team. Not necessarily from week to week, but from play to play during a game. I know at the end of the season that there are a group of people that maybe would have thought that the group of men in that locker room would have not played with all of their heart, and I think that they did that at the end of the season. Those last three games was no surprise to myself, Thomas (Dimitroff), Arthur (Blank), or anyone else in this organization. We knew that our guys were going to go out and play hard every time that we stepped out onto the field. I thought that we did that all the way through the season."
Q. Can you talk about the development of Matt Ryan in his second year as quarterback in the NFL?A. "I certainly can. I think, arguably, Matt's playing the most difficult position that there is in sports. I think that Matt has progressed from year one to year two. As I've said before, we are lifetime learners. Every time you go out there on the field it's a new experience. You're going to see something different. In Matt's second year, we did see some things different than we did the first year. I think that we tried to increase Matt's role as a quarterback and put more on his shoulders, and I think that he handled it very well. I think Matt is going to be an outstanding player in the League for years to come. I know that he'll be scrutinized, not only for all of the touchdown throws that he makes, but he'll also be scrutinized for the interceptions. I think that there will be a lot more touchdowns than interceptions in the future."
Q. Beyond injuries, is there anything else you may think needs some maintenance?A. "Well we're not going to make excuses for injuries. We had a number of starters that missed a lot of playtime this year. I don't want to make that an excuse. We were changing quite a bit throughout the entire season. I really feel like we have to sit back as a staff, and start to evaluate everything from top to bottom that we do. It's my job and our job as a coaching staff to eliminate those inconsistencies. I think that's going to be the biggest thing that we're going to have to evaluate. We're going to have to go through the cut-ups with a fine tooth comb. We're also going to have to evaluate how we practice and how we present. We're going to look at everything and do everything in our power to improve on everything that we do."
Q. How does your defense grade in your final evaluation?A. "We made a commitment, Thomas (Dimitroff) and myself, to get younger, faster and more urgent, and I think that we did that. We played inconsistently. I've already mentioned. I felt we got off to a very fast start. In the first five games of the season, we were playing very aggressive defense. We had twelve turnovers in the first five games of the season. We had eight turnovers in the last three games of the season. There was a stretch during the season that we did not create turnovers, and I think that really set the tone for the season. I felt that the young guys that stepped in and had an opportunity to play did very, very well for us. I think it really came down to turnovers. We started fast. In the first five games we had twelve turnovers, and the last three games we had eight turnovers. Twenty of the twenty-five turnovers occurred in those eight games."
Q. Who is your MVP on both sides of the ball?A. "I really felt like on the defensive side of the ball Thomas DeCoud had the most solid season for us on defense. I thought that Tony Gonzalez, with his third down and red zone catches, was MVP on the offensive side of the ball. You may get different opinions from different people, but that was my MVP."
Q. Tony Gonzalez insinuated he may not return next year. What are your thoughts on that?A. "I don't think there's any doubt that Tony Gonzalez will be back. Tony is under contract. Tony is excited about getting back here. Again, there are some things that are said at the end of the games and in the locker room after difficult situations."
Q. Did you read his comment?A. "I heard about it, but I did not read the comment."
Q. Did you ask him about it?A." Well, Tony (Gonzalez) and I had an exit interview, like all of the guys that are on our team, especially the older guys. I didn't meet with every player. The rest met with their position coaches, but I did have an exit interview with all of our over-30 club."
Q. Can you elaborate on why he insinuated that?A. "My conversations with Tony (Gonzalez) are private. Tony is under contract, and he's looking forward to being back here."
Q. Talk about your defensive backs and any concerns you have with them.A. " I thought that our young corners played well, especially down the stretch. Ideally you're always looking for the biggest, the fastest, and the strongest at each position. That's an optimum situation. Our guys played bigger than they are in terms of their size, but it is something that we are definitely going to take a good hard look at."
Q. Can you talk about your grading system at the end of the year?A. "We have a grading system that's in place, and I really don't want to get into the details. We grade every player on our roster. We rank every player on our roster. We not only rank them from one to fifty-three, but we also rank them from one to eight, if there's eight guys at that position, so we get an idea of what they're worth and what their value is to this team."
Q. Even though you give guys a good grade week to week, does that always add up at the end of the year?A. "I think what happens is at the end of the season you take a couple of weeks off and you start looking at your cut-ups. Your opinion will change, believe it or not. Sometimes when you watch a game and you got the outcome that wanted, you feel better about how a certain guy played. Then when your calm, cool confines of your office when the season is over, I think sometimes those opinions change. I really think the evaluation process is really going to begin this week as a coaching staff, as we evaluate our roster as we go through our cut-ups."
Q. Do you have an idea of what you want and what you need?A. "I have an idea, yes, in terms of vision and what our football team should look like. In terms of the actual pieces and the personnel, that's something that I'm looking forward to getting with Thomas (Dimitroff) and his staff, and our coaching staff on. We'll start getting involved with the free agency players, the unrestricted free agents, as well as the college draft players."
Q. How might the uncapped year affect you?A. "I think it's very obvious that based on what happens over the next few weeks, and if we get to an uncapped year it does change the rules and the number of free agents that are going to be available."
Q. What did you get be
tter at doing this year after year one?
A. "I think I got better personally in terms managing the game as a Head Coach. I think that's the most important thing in terms of time management, substitution management, and conveying strategy. I think that's the role as a Head Coach. I will say that there are a lot of things that I have to do better. If we're going to be a better football team, I've got to be a better coach. I've already started the evaluation process of myself. I think it's very, very important that we're not only honest when we evaluate our players, but each guy's got to evaluate themselves. That's something that our coaching staff and I are very, very aware of."
Q. What year do you think you did a better job of coaching?A. "Ultimately you are evaluated by wins and losses. If that's the criteria, then I would say the first year because we won eleven football games. Ultimately, that is the way that we are evaluated."
Q. Did anyone express a desire to retire this year?A. "No, our guys were very upbeat and very anxious to get away for some R and R, but they were also looking forward to starting back on March 22. That's when we will start our fourteen week offseason program. It will start with weight training, and then we'll quickly move into coaching sessions, where we'll have an opportunity to spend some time with our players on the field. Then on the second weekend of May, we'll have our mandatory mini-camp two weeks after the draft."
Q. Will Matt Bryant be back next year?A. "Matt Bryant is under contract for next season. When we signed Matt at the end of the season, we also signed him for next season. We also have Steve Hauschka under contract as well."
Q. Talk about the progress of Curtis Lofton.A. "I thought Curtis went through a learning curve this year. He's a tackling machine. I thought he did a good job in terms of making plays in the run game. This was the first time that he spent any significant time playing on third down or playing in our sub package. It was all new to him this year. I think he will continue to become a full-time player. What I mean by full-time player, is a player that is going to play on all three downs and I think he has a very bright future, just like all of our first and second year players that played this year. I was very pleased with Sam Baker's play as well. The young guys off of this year's draft class got a number of snaps. Christopher Owens started six games for us. Vance Walker was in the rotation for about twenty five percent of the snaps. Lawrence Sidbury played about twenty five percent of the snaps this year. Garrett Reynolds had an opportunity to play. It's very good to get the young players, because that's what we're trying to do. We're trying to sustain our level of play, and to have sustainability you have to have young players."
Q. Are you expecting full recovery form all of your injured reserves?A. "Without a doubt. I know that Harry Douglas and Peria (Jerry) have been working very hard. They're the guys that have been on it the longest. They've been working very, very hard in their rehabilitation with our athletic performance department and we do not anticipate any setbacks in terms of their recovery. I know Harry has been working very diligently, as well as Peria."
Q. Will any player require any additional offseason surgery?A. "Well I can't answer that. We've had a couple of guys that have gone in and had some cleanup work done already. Nothing major, but just some minor procedures. The quicker that you get those done, the quicker they're going to recover and get involved in our offseason conditioning program. We've had a couple of guys that have had procedures over the last few days."
Q. Are there any other universities or organizations that have asked to speak with any member of your staff?A. "At this time, not that I'm aware of. No one has come and asked. Officially, I think that opportunities for those would happen over the next couple of weeks. I think this is the normal time of the year. I would anticipate that could possibly happen because we have a very good coaching staff from top to bottom. I think it's one of the top in the NFL and it very well could happen."
Q. Did you watch the Wildcard weekend, and was that very tough for you?A. "It was very tough for me to watch the games. I was a couch potato for two solid days. I watched some very good football played this weekend by a number of teams. My ears were red; I wasn't a very good person to be around. I wanted to be standing on that sideline with our football team."
Q. Is there any position where you'd like to see personnel changes?A. "Thomas(Dimitroff) and I have had preliminary conversations. He'll have an opportunity to talk about the free agency period and the draft. I have just really started to get involved with the free agent players as well as the draft. I can assure you that I am looking forward to putting on my personnel cap and working for Thomas and his staff, and do whatever I have to do to improve our roster."
Q. Talk about the benefits of your young players.A. "Through the two years that we have been here, one of things that we have done is play our young players. Seven of eight of our draft picks played this year. The one that did not play was picked up off our practice squad and was an active member of the Jacksonville Jaguars this year. Last year, all but one of our draft picks have played. Through the two years, only one of our draft picks has not seen the football field. I think that says a lot about our personnel staff and what Thomas and his group does in supplying players for our football team."
Q. What would you say the idea of this team is after two years?A. "A hard-nosed physical football team that is never going to quit. I think if we continue to have that identity, we are going to like the outcomes more often than not. This is a group of men that loves to play the game and they have no quit in them. That's the thing that I'm most proud of with this team this year. I'm not necessarily proud of the record, but I am proud of the way that these guys fought and battled, especially at the end of the season in those last three games."
Q. Is you position challenging?A. "It is a challenge. Being a Head Coach in the NFL is a challenge. It's a challenge that I cherish. I've enjoyed the opportunity. There are more expectations from year one to year two. As I told the players when the season started, we're going to go out and expect to win and we're not going to concern ourselves with outside expectations. We're only going to concern ourselves with our internal expectations. When you do that you keep your focus. I think that's something that we did a pretty good job of this year."
Q. Do you think the team's mentality will carry on to next year?A. "I don't think there's any doubt. As I said before the last ball game, even though it was the last game of 2009, I talked to our team about it, and it's really the first game of 2010 on the calendar. How we finished the 2009 season with the game that we played in 2010, really sets the stage for the offseason program. It sets the stage for everything that we want to do"
MORE ON THE FALCONS OFFSEASON:
- TRANSCRIPTS:Head Coach Mike Smith | General Manager Thomas Dimitroff
- J. MIKE'S MISSIVES:Some key words from Smitty and TD
- FEATURE:Consistency the key for Falcons improvement
- PRESSER VIDEO:Head Coach Mike Smith | General Manager Thomas Dimitroff
- ONE-ON-ONE:Head Coach Mike Smith | General Manager Thomas Dimitroff
- FALCONCAST:J. Mike and Matt discuss the season with John Manasso