After a pedestrian 2011 season, Mike Smith and the Atlanta Falcons are ready to get back to work. They’ll do so in training camp in what some might consider a pivotal year for the Falcons. After giving up so much to draft Julio Jones, the Falcons have bet big that their time to win is now, or at least somewhere in the near future. With two new coordinators on his staff, Smith will be busy getting his team ready to compete in the competitive NFC South.
Smith joined WCNN in Atlanta with the Rude Awakening to talk about the middle linebacker position for the Falcons, whether he thinks experience is overemphasized at times, Akeem Dent and the veterans around him he can learn from, the addition of two new coordinators this season, the distribution of carries between Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers, and what he expects from Matt Ryan and Julio Jones in their second year together.
Who he sees starting at middle linebacker for the Falcons this season:
“I envision Akeem Dent as middle linebacker. We drafted him last year in the third round. He was a contributor on special teams and his opportunity will be there this season to play as middle linebacker.”
On experience and whether he thinks its overemphasized at times:
“You would like to have experienced players out there but the way the league works and they way the system is, you got young guys that you draft and you bring in to play. Akeem has had a number of snaps during the offseason and in practice but he hasn’t had a whole lot in games so we need to get him a lot in preseason. That’s what the preseason is for. We added Mike Peterson. He will give us flexibility because he can play all three linebacker positions. Right now, Akeem Dent will be our middle linebacker and he will compete with Mike [Peterson].”
Akeem Dent has had a lot of great players and leader to learn from.
“Yes. I think that room for the past few years had been a very solid room, a lot of players that have a lot of experience and game time. You don’t always have to be out on the field playing, sometimes you can watch and learn. I think it was a great chance for Akeem Dent to get the snaps he did in special teams.”
On the two new coordinators in Atlanta this coming season:
“It’s a very interesting dynamic when you have a coaching change. You have to give and take on both sides. Often people think they are going to bring his playbook in and say this is our playbook, it doesn’t happen that way. The first thing you have to work on is evaluating the roster and it’s great to have two new coordinators in here. They’re going to have different insights on the strengths and weaknesses of our players. It’s about emphasizing the strengths and putting players in a position where they can be successful. We built a new system and that’s what it’s all about. There’ll be changes on the offense and defense but they won’t be drastic changes.”
On the distribution of carries between Turner and Rodgers this season:
“I don’t envision that Turner will have over 300 carries this season. I think it’s too much. When you multiply that, 3 out of 4 years, we need to reduce his workload. There are different ways [to spread the ball around]. We need to distribute the touches more evenly and not have one guy have over 300 touches.”
What are you expecting from the Matt Ryan, Julio Jones connection?
“I thought Julio had a great season last year. He had an injury to miss about 5 games. Julio is a very hard worker and he’s learned that we have to temper back what we do in practice. We have to make sure he has the right amount of snaps in practice. He has worked great with the athletic performance people. He led all rookies in touchdowns last season. That shows you the talent he has. We anticipate him to mature and become an even better player next year.”
On the addition of Asante Samuel:
“I think that he livens up the practice and games. He has a unique style. He’s very competitive. He doesn’t want certain things to happen and he lets you know about it. He has a track record of being very effective.”