Mike Smith is developing the Falcons roster to win a championship this offseason.
The Atlanta Falcons have already gone through one week of training camp and have been able to take away quite a few good things from it. While this time of year can cause some concern, the Falcons have been able to stay relatively injury-free and develop as a team.
The team holds its training camp every year in Flowery Branch, Ga., at the team's regular-season facilities. This year the main goal appear to be improving fundamentals so the team can take that next step in the playoffs.
Julio Jones is looking primed to break out, but so is the entire Falcons offense. The Falcons offense has been dominating in camp and is ready to take on other teams' defenses. Expect Atlanta to feature a lot of Jones and a lot of screens this year.
Roddy White can't get left out either. The longtime Falcon was quoted by AtlantaFalcons.com's Daniel Cox when asked about Julio Jones and his impact on the offense:
The more plays he can make out there, they can’t double us all. I’ll go out there and do my thing and it will open up things for Harry. We’ve just got to keep our playmakers out there on the field. I just want to be in 11-personnel all day, but I’m not the offensive coordinator. The more weapons we’ve got out there, the more opportunities we’ve got to make plays.
Expect not just Jones to have a career year, but for White, Tony Gonzalez and even Harry Douglas to make plays too. Matt Ryan gets criticized a lot for his postseason performance, but now he has the absolute best receiving corps in the NFC South.
The competition is strong on the Falcons offensive line. Multiple positions are available as the only locks look to be Justin Blalock at left guard and Tyson Clabo at right tackle. The line has been a weakness but competition should breed success.
The Falcons figure to be improved on the offensive line due to new coach Pat Hill and the drafting of Peter Konz and Lamar Holmes. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Chris Vivlamore asked Tyson Clabo about the team's drafting of two offensive lineman:
Isn’t that what really, really creates improvement? Competition. Obviously we want to improve. If you have a really strong competition, everybody wants to win that competition, so they are going to do everything in their power to improve and come out on top of that.
And strong it is. However, right now, the Falcons starters look to be Sam Baker, Blalock, Todd McClure, Garrett Reynolds and Clabo, or the same unit that started last season. In the end, expect at least one change to that group before the season, if not three.
The biggest problem with last year's defense, according to the coaches, was that the scheme and the teaching was too confusing. They wanted to completely simplify everything so that the defense as a whole will play much faster. AtlantaFalcons.com's Daniel Cox quoted new Defensive Coordinator Mike Nolan:
You have to get it to the point where, first off, you have to simplify the teaching...You can’t have 10 different words for the same thing and you can’t have words mean absolutely nothing. There has to be that to play fast, so I’d like to think it’s that, but again, it’s a process. There’s some things we play faster than other right now because they’ve done them maybe before, but there’s some new things we need to play fast that, in the process, that’s really our goal through all these OTAs and training camp and minicamp.
Nolan has definitely simplified the defense to where the Falcons can play faster. Multiple members of the secondary should benefit from it. Thomas DeCoud got caught up getting back to his position too many times last year. With simplified calls, he will be in a better position to make an impact.
The names to watch out for are William Moore and Asante Samuel. They play extremely fast in a defense that wants them to fly around the field, They will have a huge impact. The biggest improvement the fans should see is in pass coverage.
Because of that, the big focus will be on third down. Pat Yasinskas of ESPN asked head coach Mike Smith about what the Falcons are trying to focus on this offseason to take the next step on defense:
Defensive scoring over the last four years, we've been one of the top five teams....Third-down efficiency, we've not played it as well as we need to, and that's one of the things that Mike [Nolan] is so strong at...we're going to be more multiple as a defense than what we've been in the past.
The Falcons look poised to make a jump this year. With better third-down defense, the Falcons should improve their scoring defense, and that's all that really matters.
The Falcons defense always felt like it was missing the identity it needed to be a top five defense. It didn't have the swagger or the aggressive attitude needed to be a championship defense. However, things have changed in Atlanta with the addition of Asante Samuel and the rise of Sean Weatherspoon to a leadership role.
While some have thought a cocky attitude can be an issue, Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff doesn't feel that Samuel's swagger is going to be an issue but rather a boost. Pat Yaskinskas quoted the Falcons general manager about Samuel's swagger:
Our personal feeling as an organization is that Asante has one of the best sets of anticipatory skills in this league and we believe that he can still make plays on balls....He’s a feisty, very confident corner. One that cannot only make an impact on the field, but also make an impact on our locker room and help our element of confidence and swagger within the secondary....We expect him to come in, and, again, contribute on the field and also help school some of our younger players.
And that ability to come in and lead has already proven to be an asset. Samuel will end up as part of the Falcons top corner group and should help create quite a few big plays. But when he has guys believing in themselves due to their swagger and aggression on defense, it will only be positive for Atlanta.
The Falcons special teams unit is only going to get better in 2012. It was already in the top half of the league in 2011, but with a full offseason, second-year player Matt Bosher is feeling more comfortable in his role as the key kickoff specialist and punter.
Bosher wasn't happy with how he started last season. AtlantaFalcons.com's Daniel Cox asked Bosher about his slow start:
Last year, I didn’t start the way I wanted....It’s a new year. I had a good, long offseason this year. I had OTAs and minicamp. I got a lot of work done here. Coach [Keith] Armstrong has really done a lot, dedicating his time to help me get better. He’s trying to help me succeed this year.
With Bosher's improvement, the entire unit should improve. The better special teams will lead to better field position for Atlanta. In close games, this can mean the difference in a win or a loss. So expect the special teams to be vital to more wins this year.
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist and Trends and Traffic Writer for Bleacher Report. As a Featured Columnist, he covers the Atlanta Falcons, NFL and NFL Draft. He is also the Falcons analyst at Drafttek, runs the NFL Draft Website ScarDraft.com and hosts Kvetching Draftniks Radio.