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Quotable: Head Coach Mike Smith


Opening comments:"It's great to be here in Indianapolis again. It's going to be a good week. We've got an opportunity to evaluate some of the top prospects that are available in this year's draft. I'd like to say that I'm disappointed in our season last year simply because we didn't have an opportunity to make the playoffs. But with that being said, I like the way that our team finished. We finished strong. We won our last three football games when we were out of contention and I think that's going to bode well for the future."

On what Tony Gonzalez brought to the team:"Well I think that Tony not only helped our offense, but I thought he helped our entire football team. Tony is a consummate professional in terms of his work habits and the way that he works. Here's a guy that's going to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer and he comes out early to work. He's catching passes and I think that rubs off not only on the other receivers, but it rubbed off on our defensive linemen. I would notice our defensive linemen would be out early spending extra time. I think it was very good for Matt (Ryan) to have Tony, another weapon, in our arsenal. And I know that our offensive staff was real pleased with what we were able to do this season with Tony. I think we went from 19 catches at the tight end position in Year One to over 100 in Year Two, so I think it really opens up a lot of things for us."

On Matt Ryan's offseason health:"We think that Matt will be ready to go on March 22 when we open up our offseason conditioning program. Matt had a significant toe injury there at the end of the season. They talked to us initially about him missing six weeks. He was able to come back in two weeks and I think that says a lot about the type of man that Matt is. He's a tough guy and playing quarterback in the NFL I think is one of the most difficult positions and I think that Matt had a very good second season. It was a learning experience, but we don't anticipate him having any setbacks between now and when we start on the 22nd of March. He's actually back to running. "

On the evaluation of the defense:"We spent a major part of our offseason evaluating everything that we do, watching the cutups. I felt that as the season wore on, we got better and better on defense. We finished against the run No. 10 in the league. I felt like that was something that we improved on immensely as the season went on. We did not play the pass as well as we would like. It's something that we definitely have to address. Statistically we were not close to where we need to be or want to be. I think there's a two-fold way that you address that. One is to improve your pass rush and number two is to improve your secondary play. Those are areas that we definitely will be wanting to address. I'm pleased with, when I say our secondary, our young corners. Brent Grimes had six interceptions this season. Christopher Owens had an opportunity to play when our starter Chris Houston went down and played well. I think that we have three young corners that will continue to grow, but they are very, very young. "

On defensive line and secondary issues in 2009:"We've got a number of areas that we have to address. In Year One our draft was more titled toward the offensive side of the ball. In Year Two we definitely drafted more for the defense. I think what you'll see in the draft this season is that it will be more balanced. We definitely have to address some areas on both sides of the ball and as well as our special teams."

On Julius Peppers:"Well I can tell you this, having Julius Peppers out of the NFC South would be a good thing. He has been an outstanding player for a number of years. He's a guy that you always have to be aware of where he is aligned and you always have to scheme to try to protect your quarterback."

On this year's free agent class:"Well this year the free agent class is not as deep. When I say not as deep, there's not as many numbers. Of course we're going to do our due diligence on every free agent that's available. We've been spending a lot of our offseason not only on the personnel side, but with our coaching staff watching tape."

On this year's free agent environment:"The only way we can approach it as a coaching staff is that it's going to be like any other year. We're going to go out and evaluate the players that are available and then it's going to be up to Thomas Dimitroff and his staff to make those decisions. Really our approach as a coaching staff has not been any different this year than any other."

On Matt Ryan's development in his second season:"I thought I saw growth in everything that Matt did this season. Statistically he had more pass attempts this year in Year Two. He was very similar in completions. More touchdown passes. I think the thing that any quarterback has to do in this league is do two things very, very well and the great ones do that. One, they have to be accurate with the football, and I think that Matt has done that. He's improved his accuracy. Number two, he's got to be a very good decision maker. I think he's done that as well. That decision making process that a quarterback goes through has got to happen in the first two seconds of the play. I've said this many times: Playing quarterback in the National Football League, I think, is the toughest job there is in all of sports.

On the NFL's passing explosion:"I think it's becoming a spacing game for sure. Formationally, you're not seeing a whole lot of two-back running sets. They're more single-back sets. It is a quarterback-driven league. I think that there were more 300-yard passing games as well, of course that makes sense with the number of 4,000-yard passers. I've always said that you've got to be able to run the football and stop the run and even though the Indianapolis Colts played in the Super Bowl and were No. 32 in the league in rushing. I don't know if that's an anomaly but if you look through the playoffs I thought they ran the ball very effectively. I really believe that you still have to be able to run the football and stop the run. But I do know this, the formations and what offensive coordinators are doing are making it very, very difficult because you have to defend 53 1/3 yards when they put their formations together."

On the linebackers:"I think it was a learning experience for Curtis Lofton. Curtis was our first- and second-down linebacker as a rookie who started from Day One. In Year Two he became a three-down linebacker. So he was going through some growing experiences as a sub linebacker. I thought that Mike Peterson came in and played well for us. Mike is a very experienced player. Stephen Nicholas became a full-time starter as well this offseason. We had some youth there in the linebacking corp. I'm very excited about the young guys that we drafted over the last two seasons. Robert James is a second-year player that got an opportunity to play on special teams as well as Spencer Adkins who was a defensive end at the University of Miami."

On the evolution of passing games impacting the draft:"I really think that it affects the way you put your football team together. When you're talking about a spacing offense, you've got to be able to have guys that can match up. When people are putting out three receivers and a running back that can run routes just like a receiver, you've got four wide receivers and you're going to have to be able to match up. The sub-linebacker position is something that I think is evolving and will continue to evolve. Where you've normally had linebacker types playing that, I think you're going to see more safeties and p

ossibly big cornerbacks that will play on those downs. I think you're going to see much more six- and possibly even seven-defensive back defensive schemes to match up with the skill players and the level of skill that the offenses are able to put on the field."

On the drafting of Matt Ryan:"When you're picking in the first five, you're always going to have some angst in terms of what direction you're going to go. It became real obvious for us in our experience with Matt Ryan. About two weeks before the draft we made the decision that we were going to draft Matt. In terms of what happens at the Combine, you get an opportunity to visit with the players. You get the medical and I think that's one of the biggest things that's overlooked. We get the medical and the physical that takes place. They go over the players with a fine-toothed comb. We've got an idea about their character prior to coming here to the Combine. We've spent hours and hours on watching tape. Really, I think it's the interview process and the physical. Matt did not throw here at the Combine, but he did have a private workout and at that workout he really showed well."

On making the final decision on Matt Ryan:"When you're going through this process, you're looking at hours and hours of evaluation from a number of people. I think what really sold us that we went up there as a staff. When I say as a staff, myself, Thomas Dimitroff, our owner Arthur Blank, our offensive coordinator, and our quarterback coach, and we had dinner with Matt at a restaurant there in Boston. That's an intimidating thing to have seven guys and him at the table. Matt handled himself very, very well. Then the next morning we got together and talked football and put him up on the board. It became real obvious that he had all the skills that we were looking for to be a successful quarterback in the NFL."

On Matt Ryan's performance during the team's pre-draft meetings:"Matt's skill set: height, weight, speed, arm-strength, and all that, I think it's the prototype for an NFL quarterback. We felt Matt was going to come in and be a guy that was to lead our football team. It became real obvious. We had an open competition through training camp and after two preseason games I almost felt like the players knew who our best quarterback was. They were like, 'Coach, there's our guy, let's get him in there and let's go.' Sometimes the players know before the coaches."

On running back depth:"Michael Turner, I thought, had an injury-plagued season this year. He really missed eight games this year. Jason Snelling came in and did an outstanding job for us. Not only did he play running back, but he played fullback for us when we lost Ovie Mughelli for a couple of weeks. Jerious Norwood is a guy that has given us some good snaps. I think Jerious is a guy that can create those matchup issues. You always want to try to add depth at the running back. That position is a position that takes the most pounding of any position in the league. It's not a top priority for us right now, but it's definitely something that we will be evaluating."


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