During OTAs, quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur said the continuity and camaraderie amongst Atlanta's staff is "unlike anything I've been a part of first going into a job." When some of the other coaches talk about each other, it's easy to understand why.
Take Richard Smith, for instance. The Falcons' new defensive coordinator, a veteran of 27 NFL seasons, worked in San Francisco with Dan Quinn back in the early 2000s. There, they bonded over a shared passion for aggressive, intelligent football, which eventually reunited them here in Flowery Branch.
"I learn a lot from him every day," Smith said of Quinn. "We're trying to do things exactly the way he wants them to be done, and we're here early morning, late at night, and any time I have a question about anything, I bring it right directly to him. 'How do you want to do this? How would you play here?' And he's been very, very helpful."
The Falcons' new defense is undoubtedly Quinn's scheme, but Smith, who's responsible for many formidable units in the past, remains a crucial piece of the puzzle. His experience in itself makes him a valuable asset; moreover, numbers indicate he's done extremely well in recent history.
Smith served as Denver's linebackers coach from 2011-14, and in that time, the Broncos ranked third in rushing defense, third in third-down defense and seventh in total defense. In 2012 Denver's D finished second overall according to traditional stats and Pro Football Focus' grading system. And the LBs frequently credited Smith for their accomplishments.
One such linebacker was Von Miller — the 2011 Defensive Rookie of the Year and a three-time Pro Bowler.
"Coach Smith, a huge part of my success as a rookie and to now is due to him," Miller said in 2014. "He's a great coach, he's a great teacher and he stays on me. If it wasn't for him, I probably wouldn't have all the success that I have had. That's great. It goes past just a coach-player relationship. It's more like a father-son relationship."
All things considered, Smith has proved himself worthy of an important role in Atlanta. Based on early impressions, the players and Quinn appear happy to have him on board.
"One of the things that you need for both Richard Smith and for (offensive coordinator) Kyle Shanahan to do is finding out all of the unique stuff that a guy can do and then make sure that that's part of the plan," said Quinn. "For the assistant coaches and for them, can they know these guys so well? And I think that's where they've done their best job."