First, a quick apology for my unplanned three-week break from B/R. Amazing what full-time work can do to a man!
Getting past my business (you can check out some of what I've been doing in the meantime at www.atlantajewishtimes.com ), I've had some time to reflect on the Falcons' 2009 campaign as a whole—certainly more time than head coach Mike Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff had when they had to conduct their season-ending press conferences.
And yet, the words I might choose to articulate my thoughts would still come out more jumbled and nonsensical than those two's from back on Jan. 11. So instead of giving you the normal McCurdy drivel, let's look at a few of my favorite quotes from Smith and Dimitroff's talks and then consider the implications, ramifications, and general excitation that follow.
First, one from Smitty:
"I thought our young cornerbacks played well. That being said, we're going to take a long, hard look at our defensive backfield. The staff's overall opinion can change after the season, despite our process of awarding each player week-to-week grades."
So, if you've read DDDB before, you know what I think of Atlanta's young CBs. We have some athletes—Brent Grimes, Chris Owens—that just don't really know the position. Sure, their vertical leap and footspeed put them in the position to make some great plays, but they seemed to screw up more than they succeeded over the 16 games.
Smitty makes me more or less eat my words with his first sentence, but then tip-toes back to middle ground here. What's he really trying to say? Jobs aren't safe, but the Falcons are not going into this potentially crazy free-agent season looking for a star corner.
The approach might end up being similar to last offseason's, which might have worked except for Brian Williams' injury. In other words, we'll be on the market for some crafty, solid vets to use as mentors and stopgaps, but we're still dedicated to bringing along guys we've hand-picked through the draft.
Which brings me to my next quote, this one a Dimitroff:
"We as an organization don't want to be denoted as either heavy in free agency or as draft-driven."
Mmm, and here I am munching on my words again.
Dimitroff was super-diplomatic throughout his exchange, as one might expect a savvy NFL GM to be, but he did let some things on. He did admit that this draft would probably have a greater number of juniors testing the waters because of salary cap concerns, and for that reason said that the staff's job of projecting prospects was going to be a good bit harder.
So basically, we, just like every other franchise, take the draft really seriously and do our homework as best we can.
But then he went on to say that young free agents are where the team needs to "make its hay" and that older free agents should only be "sprinkled" in.
So maybe he isn't giving me the verbal slap in the face I originally thought...youth is still a priority here.
But onto another Coach Smith soundbite, this one less about the team and more about him personally:
On watching the wild-card round from home : "It was very tough for me, but I was a couch potato for two solid days."
It was tough...to be a couch potato. Right, bub.
But then I gave it a little thought, and I came to see that this oxymoron makes perfect sense in the context of this guy as a coach. This is the dude who went after LaRon Landry, DeAngelo Hall, Albert Haynesworth, and the rest of the 'Skins when a late hit got put on Matt Ryan in week nine.
He doesn't just care about the outcomes of games; the outcomes of games he coaches are what he is . And he doesn't just like his guys; he loves them and wastes no time standing up for them.
These things could be said about a lot of coaches, sure, but would they have jumped to your mind with Dan Reeves or Jim Mora?
Yeah, that's what I thought. Just further proof that things are different here.
Finally, let's look at what both guys said when asked to name their offensive and defensive MVPs:
Smitty on O: Tony Gonzalez
"There's no doubt he'll be back."
Dimitroff on O: Tony Gonzalez
"Not only on the field, but off; there's not a more respected player."
Smitty on D: Thomas DeCoud (I know, I know, calm down...I was surprised, too)
"When you look at the season as a whole, no one played at a high level more consistently."
Dimitroff on D: Curtis Lofton (ah, OK, there we go. More along the lines of what I was expecting)
"He just got better as the season wore on."
Now, let's note that Smith also recognized Lofton's progress (called it a "learning curve") and then called him a "tackling machine." Still, the DeCoud pick raised not just my eyebrows, but most around the room.
Really, it just made me more eager to see Thomas in action again; I certainly remember the pick against N.O., but beyond that, I felt he was largely quiet. Erik Coleman certainly had more tackles, but then again, these are just numbers, something I am all too ready to judge a player by.
Them both picking Gonzo totally independent of each other says a ton about what he brought; but does anything else need be said there?
In all, getting to see these two guys talk, and even toss a couple of questions their way, was really reassuring. These are smart men, and more importantly, these are football men.