We present the full transcript of Atlanta Falcons Coach Mike Smith at the NFL Combine.
OPENING STATEMENT: Good morning. Glad to be here. It’s always fun to change your coaching hat and put on your personnel hat. The combine seems to kick that off for our coaching staff. We’re real excited about getting to know these 300-plus guys that are going to be here. Q: What’s it like being here with an established team as opposed to 2008 when you all knew you had some major needs? A: We are in a completely different place than we were five years ago. We had a lot of areas that we had to address. This year, I don’t think we have as many as we did five years ago. But we are always trying to get better and get better as a team. We believe you build through the draft and I think it’s good that we have the complete allotment of draft picks this year. We have all seven, including our first round pick. Last year, we didn’t have our full allotment. I know that Thomas and his staff are real excited about adding guys from this draft class. Q: What is the rehab status of Brent Grimes and will you all franchise tag him? A: Brent Grimes has been doing an outstanding job with our athletic performance department, working in the training room. He is progressing well. Again, that was a significant injury that took place in Kansas City on opening weekend. But he has not been out working outside. He’s still working in the training room, but he is progressing very well. Q: Franchise tag? A: Guys, I’m not going to talk about the franchise tag in terms of what we may do there. Q: On Tony Gonzalez’s possible return? A: I’ve spoken with Tony and I hope you guys understand that when I talk to my players I try to keep those conversations private. I’ll talk with him again. The time frame on that is sooner rather than later. We know that Tony has had an outstanding year for us. We know what he said at the beginning of the season. If there is any update on it, you guys will be the first ones to know. Q: Can he still play? A: Can he still play? (Laughs) Absolutely! I think the 90 plus catches (93 for 930 yards) this season tell what kind of season he had, plus it tells what he’s capable of doing. Q: Have you started looking at the film of the tight ends in this draft class? Do you have any assesments of them yet? A: Again, I’ve watched some point of attack tapes on a number of positions, tight end is one of them. It is a group of good guys. There at the weigh-in yesterday, they were a very good looking group. I’m looking forward to watching these guys perform over the next couple of days. Q: (Something about the NFC South.) A: The NFC South, in my opininon, is the most competitive (division) in the in the National Football League. I think when you watch and look at the scores of the division games, they are tight every year. Since, I’ve been in it, there’s been a different team winning it. It’s not one team that is dominating it. It’s very competitive. Ron (Rivera) does a very good job over in Carolina. Greg (Schiano) did a great job down in Tampa this year and of course Sean (Payton) has a great record in New Orleans. I think the proximity of the cities make it competitive. I’ll put our division up against any in terms of competition. Q: There’s a report that Michael Turner might be released. What’s his status? A: Guys, this time of the year, there are tough decisions that have to be made. We are recalibrating our roster as we speak, going through that process. Michael is under contract right now. We’ll continue to go through that process in terms of how we are going to recalibrate it. Myself, Mr. Blank and Thomas have had numerous discussions. There is a cause-and-effect to every decision that you make at this time of the year. You’re dealing with the salary cap and those decisions will work themselves out over the next couple of weeks. Q: If you could add one thing to the combine that would help you as an evaluator, what would that be? A: Gosh, I think they do a great job in terms of allowing us to compare data from one year to the next. If it would be possible, if you could extend the amount of time that you have in the interview process. That’s probably the biggest thing. Fifteen minutes goes fast in the interviews that the head coaches and the people that can have the one-on -one interviews. If we could have a little bit more time, maybe cut the numbers down and allow us more time to spend with each player. Q: (Could not hear the question; It was related to the read-option) A: I think the first thing that you look at when you are building your team and building you roster it how you want to be able to compete in the division. You’ve got to win in the division first and we face a team that has a very good quarterback. I think all defensive coaches with the success with the five or six teams that are running some version of the read option will spend time this offseason. I know that I vetted our coaching staff to make sure that we are going to spend a whole lot of time because it could be the wave of the future. I’m not saying that it will be, but that it could be. More and more college teams are running that style of offense and you’re going to have to be prepared to play it. We are going to play it again next year. We are playing the NFC West and we play it twice in our division. It’s something that we want to make sure that we have a very good understanding of." Q: (On the drills at the combine) A: I think they do a very good in most positions in terms of what they are asking the players to do in terms of the drills. The great thing is that you want to be consistent in terms of what you’re administering the test and the drills that you are doing so that you can compare them from year to year. I think if you go about making changes, just to be making changes you are not going to be able to compare from one season to the next. We do a lot of comparables from year to year in terms of what guys have done and how they’ve performed at the combine. Q: Do you know if Tony Gonzalez is coming back? A: I think the skill set that Tony Gonzalez has is basically the standard that most teams are looking for when they are talking about a tight end. He was really the first one. The more athletic tight end that could extend from the formation, line up outside, line up in different places. We would be looking for that type of tight end. A guy that has the ability to play inline, but can also split out, get in the slot, line up as the No. 1, motion in and out of the back field and try to put ourselves in position, I think the tight end position, more and more in the NFL is becoming a very integral part. I talk about it to our players and coaches. It’s like in a chess game, the tight end position is like becoming the queen. You can move it all around the board. It’s not like a rook or bishop. That’s position is one that you can move all around the board and you can use it to your advantage. You can get a lot of great matchups with the athleticism of the tight ends. It creates concerns for defenses in terms of who you’re going to put on them. Q: Is there in change after winning a playoff game last season? Is the pressure off? A: Absolutely, not. Our goals is much higher. Our internal goals are much higher than winning just one playoff game. As an organization, we want to be a relevant football team year in and year out. If you’re a relevant football team that means that you’re in contention to play in the second season. When you get there, you’ve got to go make plays and play your best football. Usually the team that plays their best football in the second season is the team that wins the Super Bowl. We have a focused group of guys. We have a great group of guys. Led by a bunch of leaders throughout the locker room. I say this, you win in the locker room first. Most importantly, you’ve got to have a good locker room. That’s one of the things that Thomas and his staff do a great job in vetting not only the college guys and the free agents that we’re going to add to our football team. Q: (On guys playing through injuries at the combine like Julio Jones did.) A: Well, Julio is a tough guy. Julio is a special guy. I think when we made the move we made two years ago, we basically said what we felt about Julio Jones and I think it’s come to fruition. He’s done a very good job for us. Sometimes guys have a different pain tolerance than others and can fight through things. Ultimately, I think it comes down to what the doctors says. All of the medical decisions should be made by someone in the medical field. In terms of Julio. He’s one tough guy and he’s done a heck of a job for us. Q: After the Super Bowl, did you congratulatie Ray Lewis? A: I have not since the Super Bowl. That was a great run for the Baltimore Ravens and again, my congratulations go out to not only Ray, but Ed Reed was the team when I was there and to Steve Bisciotti and John Harbaugh and the whole coaching staff, that was a heck of a football game. Q: How is Matt Ryan’s shoulder? Any contract talks? A: Matt’s shoulder is fine. He’s out of the rehab protocol in terms of spending time in the training room. He has started working in the weight room as I stated last week. We don’t anticipate there will be any problems in terms of him starting when we start our offseason progam on the 22nd of April. I thought Matt had a very good season. Matt was the No. 1 quarterback in terms of completion percentage. I think quarterbacks, I think there are a couple of things that they are judged by and one is winning games. In terms of playing the position, it is accuracy first and decisions making second and I think Matt has done an outstanding job for us throughout his entire five years. But this year was without a doubt his best year. I think in all of the most relevant areas that you talk about for a quarterback, he was top five. Q: What were your thoughts on Jacquizz Rodgers and what do you see his role being the next couple of years? A: Jacquizz did a very nice job for us. . . . We thought he was only going to be a change of pace back. We found out very quickly that even though he is short, he is not little. He can handle all three downs and he does a very good job for us returning kicks. We were very transparent back in March of last year in terms of how we were going to put together our offense. That we were not going to have a featured back. That we were going to have carries dispersed amongst a number of guys and I think Jacquizz took advantage of his opportunities this year in terms of production he did a nice job.