Atlanta improved from 2007 to 2008 in almost every statistical category. The memories of a 4-12 season have all but been removed from Falcons' fans minds.
The Falcons have the talent (at least on offense) to compete with anyone in the NFL. The key will be how the staff is able to translate their game plan to the players so that it can be executed properly.
Mike Mularkey is the offensive coordinator. He called plays for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 2001-2003, and was the offensive coordinator for the Dolphins in 2006. In between that time, he served two years as the head coach for the Buffalo Bills in 2004 and 2005.
Mularkey has a reputation for being an offensive minded coach who specializes in trick plays and packages, so the offensive coordinator role is perfect for him.
He earned the nickname "Inspector Gadget" in Pittsburgh for his ability to come up with creative ways to involve Hines Ward and Antwaan Randle El in the Pittsburgh offense.
In order for the Falcons to have the most success, Mularkey must build the offense around the running game. Michael Turner has to be the focal point of what the Falcons do. In Pittsburgh, Mularkey relied on Jerome Bettis. Turner can fit that role and maybe do it better.
The Falcons won't need as many trick plays from wide receivers because they simply don't players who are equipped to make some of those trick plays that Randle El and Ward did.
Brian VanGorder will be calling the defense. He comes from Jacksonville, where he has some experience with Mike Smith. VanGorder also has head coaching experience at Georgia Southern. He joined the Falcons in 2007 under Petrino's staff, but improved dramatically at the NFL level under Smith's direction.
He coordinated the University of Georgia defense that won the Sugar Bowl. In that year of 2003, Georgia had the third ranked defense nationally, and VanGorder was awarded the NCAA Assistant Coach Of The Year.
Emmitt Thomas will be in charge of the defensive backs. A lot of Falcons' fans may remember Thomas as the guy who filled in once Bobby Petrino decided to leave for greener pastures (or pig slop, if that's what you want to call it).
With Atlanta's young secondary, Thomas' role for the Falcons may be the most important. His wisdom and experience could go a long way in developing the Falcons' young talent and turning them into solid players.
Thomas played twelve seasons as a defensive back for the Kansas City Chiefs and made the pro bowl. He has coached in the NFL since 1981. He joined the Falcons in 2002 and remains the only coach from the previous staff, other than VanGorder.
Terry Robiskie is the receivers coach. He had a short stint as the interim head coach of the Cleveland Browns in 2004 and with the Washington Redskins in 2000. He is the father of rookie wide receiver Brian Robiskie from Ohio State University.
Robiskie will be asked to work with Roddy White to lower the number of dropped passes he has, along with getting Michael Jenkins more involved in the offense.
Paul Boudreau is in charge of the offensive line. Last season, he helped direct an offensive line that was night and day better than it was in 2007. The key this season will be continuing to open up holes for Michael Turner and Jerious Norwood and protecting Matt Ryan.
Boudreau joined the Falcons' staff last season after spending two years with the St. Louis Rams. Before that, he spend three years in Jacksonville. He has also spent time with the Miami Dolphins and the Carolina Panthers.
Ray Hamilton is the defensive line coach. John Abraham does not need direction, but a lot of the other young players on the defensive line will. Grady Jackson and Rod Coleman are no longer there to plug up the middle. It will be up to Hamilton to develop players like Jamaal Anderson and Chauncey Davis to make up for the talent lost.
Bill Musgrave is the quarterback coach. Again, he is a coach who spent time with Mike Smith in Jacksonville. He has also spent time with the Washington Redskins, the Carolina Panthers, the Philadelphia Eagles, and the Oakland Raiders.
Musgrave will just help continue the development of Matt Ryan. Ryan should be able to avoid the "sophomore slump", but Musgrave at least has knowledge and experience to help guide him along if he needs it.
Glenn Pires is the linebackers coach. This will be another crucial position for the Falcons in 2009. Keith Brooking and Michael Boley are gone from the mix. Mike Peterson has come in from Jacksonville to anchor the linebacking corps.
As you can see, a majority of the Falcons coaching staff have worked with Mike Smith before. When choosing the staff, Atlanta chose to go with what's familiar to the coach and build the core around the philosophy rather than use players to create a philosophy.
Here's to 2009 and hoping for nothing but great things from the Atlanta Falcons.
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