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Falcons coach misses players, keeps busy


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Falcons coach misses players, keeps busy

The hardest part of the NFL lockout for Falcons coach Mike Smith is those lonesome strolls through the empty locker room.

Normally, the Falcons are in the midst of organized team activities in early June, leaving 60 players in the locker room getting ready for practice, a trip to the weight room or a session in the film room.

Smith could stop by a locker stall and get to know a player better away from the stress of an upcoming game. Perhaps, the coach would glean some information about a player’s family, his background or on the latest movie.

“That is what I really miss,” said Smith last week at the club's "Fishing with the Falcons" event for wounded military veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Instead of spending time in his office “drilling down deeper” into the Falcons’ defensive and offensive systems, Smith’s coaching clock tells him that he should be walking around on grass with a flip card in his hand while yelling out instructions.

But nothing is normal this offseason as the lockout continues. Smith and his staff are grinding away, preparing for the day when it is lifted.

When the day comes, they want to be ready to go to work.

The assistant coaches, some of whom skipped the fishing event in order to complete the training camp playbook on schedule, are staying busy. In addition to doing a systems analysis of the defense, offense and special teams, the coaches have scouted the upcoming opponents and re-evaluated the prospective free-agent class.

“We’ve also spent a lot of our time doing an evaluation of other teams that were successful in different areas throughout the league,” Smith said. “There is nothing original in this league. We are always trying to beg, borrow and steal from each other.”

The deeper internal analysis revealed additional areas for improvement. Smith stressed that the coaches are not just reviewing statistics; the staff is searching for new and creative ways to compile and distribute the scouting information to the players. They have even analyzed the number of meetings.

One assistant coach worked through last weekend and reported for work at 5 a.m. on Monday to complete a project.

“We have definitely identified some areas where we can be more efficient in our preparation,” Smith said. “I definitely think they will make the preparation for the players a lot better.”

The deeper analysis also revealed that the defense needs to improve on third-and-long situations. “We were below the curve," Smith said.

Smith wants to make sure that his staff is making good use of the additional time. Typically the staff would have prepared for free agency, the draft, minicamps, offseason conditioning program and a completed self-scout system analysis.

“Usually the thing that gets the least amount of scrutiny is our system analysis because you are always dealing with the personnel side of it and working with the players,” Smith said.

The study of free agency is complicated because different rules are likely with a new collective bargaining agreement. All sixth-, fifth- and fourth-year players could theoretically end up in the pool of unrestricted talent.

“We basically have to spend more time because there is a larger pool or a potentially larger pool than in years past,” Smith said.

The Falcons don’t have any coaches who are members of the NFL Coaches Association, which filed a brief expressing support for the players in the labor battle. The players have been holding their own practices and are staunchly behind the NFLPA.

“I think we are willing to do whatever it takes,” said quarterback Chris Redman. “We are all behind our union and we think that they are doing a great job so far. We have to keep positive and hope we get back on the field real soon.”

While Smith misses his players, the players feel the same way about the coaches. They know they are not benefiting from the offseason instruction that the coaches provide.

“We need that out here,” safety William Moore said at the players-only workout on Tuesday. “Especially for a young player like me, the coaching is important. Just the coaches pushing us to go the extra mile sometimes [is what’s missing from the practices].”

Another side effect of the lockout is that quarterback Matt Ryan has not spent an extensive amount of time with new quarterbacks coach Bob Bratkowski, who’s set to take over for Bill Musgrave. Ryan spent his first three seasons in the NFL under Musgrave, who left in January to become Minnesota’s offensive coordinator.

Ryan and Bratkowski were able to speak briefly when the lockout was temporarily lifted in late April.

“Matt and Bob will have an opportunity to spend time together once they tell us it’s time to go back to work,” Smith said. “All we can do is get prepared and be ready to go. When the powers that be say that we are ready to go back to work, we are ready to go.”

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I think that Charles Johnson and Ray Edwards are the coveted FAs we are going after. Maybe add a LB and a nickel CB. We will not have to overpay for Julio with the new CBA so we will be good to sign FA

I though about LB but where would he fit.... We have Spoon, Lofton, and Peterson (its been reports that he is coming back) ... Then we have Dent , Adkins, and Wire (who we just resigned) ... All 3 of those backup guys will be core special team players also.... I just dont see where a LB would fit... Also Robert James seem to be a LB that the Coaching Staff keeps around

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