When Mike Smith was fired as the Falcons head coach, Arthur Blank mentioned some key traits they were looking for in the man who would replace him. One of the first statements Blank made was that he was looking for a coach that would have a focus on developing players. It was a an indictment of Smitty's time as head coach that fans could relate to. Too often, fans saw players with potential get drafted in the middle-to-late rounds, only to be permanently affixed on the bench or on special teams. Ultimately, it seems that Blank saw that issue as well.
Enter Dan Quinn. Off the bat, Coach Quinn has talked at length about his desire to get the most out of every player on the roster. This sounds great, but by the time his first camp rolled around, it was clear that he was serious about it. Quinn would end up assembling a coaching staff that was much larger than the one that Mike Smith had while he was here. Not only that, but those coaches were "in the trenches" with the players during camp - including Coach Quinn.
In contrast to the "practice - film it - correct it in the classroom" methodology that Smith employed, Quinn and his staff strive for on-the-field corrections. I saw first hand as offensive linemen would go through their drills and immediately be corrected on their technique and be forced to do it again. It's a difference in philosophy that makes a big difference in the turn-around time for correction. Correcting on the field not only trains the mind, but it trains the body. It was clear that players were picking up on things faster, and responding well to the hands-on approach.
That hands-on approach wasn't limited to the top draft picks either. You would often see the coaches actively engaged with the undrafted free agents. The guys who had very little chance of making the roster. Our own Jeanna Thomas reported that during the season, she saw Dan Quinn actively working with Tyler Starr - who was on the practice squad. This developmental mentality not only spanned across the 53-man roster, it poured over into training up the guys on the practice squad as well.
Why bring all this up? Because the 2015 draft class is indicative of how critical this mindset is to everything that Coach Quinn does. Many of the players drafted this year - from Jones to Campbell to Hooper - are all raw in some respect. Even first round pick Keanu Neal has work he needs to do. Gone are the days of trying to draft "fully baked" players who have limited upside. The new regime wants players with great athletic traits who are raw or need significant development. The middle rounds are no longer about drafting core special teams players - it's about finding those diamonds in the rough. It's a mentality that netted the Seahawks guys like Richard Sherman (5th round) and Kam Chancellor (5th round). It's also how Michael Bennett was developed as an UDFA (by Dan Quinn no less).
Make no mistake: there is some risk associated with this strategy. Not every mid-round pick is going to develop and a good athlete does not always make a good football player. It's also a philosophy that could lead a staff away from a talented player it feels it can't develop in favor of one it feels is more "coachable." These are big risks, but the payoff could be tremendous. Teams that find future starters in the mid-rounds are the ones who are best able to build sustained success.
So, as you look over this draft class and watch it come together into the 2016 season, keep in mind the mindset that drove the decision to grab these specific guys. The hope is that what is raw and unpolished today, will tomorrow be a football player who is contributing at a high level. If this developmental coaching staff can pull it off, there are some bright days ahead for this franchise.