Cover 9@9: Can Arthur Smith call plays and be the head coach?

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

Combined ShapeCaption
Former Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith agreed to terms with the Falcons to become their new head coach Friday.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

Welcome to the Cover 9@9 blog — our weekly list of nine things that you need to know about the Atlanta Falcons.

1. The No Spin Zone. Falcons coach Arthur Smith plans to call plays and coach the team.

The results have been mixed.

Calling plays and coaching the entire did not work so well for former Falcons coach Dan Quinn. He took over the defensive play-calling in his second season from Richard Smith.

He tried to open the season in 2018 calling the defense after the bizarre dismissal of Marquand Manuel. After starting the season 1-7, he delegated to Raheem Morris.

What’s going to be different this time around with Arthur Smith?

What’s wrong with being the head coach hiring an offensive coordinator to call the offense and let the defensive coordinator call the defense?

“My No. 1 job is to be the head coach of the team, so that’s all three phases and every player on the roster,” Smith said Tuesday. “It’s my job to make sure I coach an entire team.”

Rams coach Sean McVay has figured out how to call offensive plays and coach the team.

During the 2018 season, 14 of 32 head coaches called the offensive plays with mixed results. It’s working for Andy Reid in Kansas City. Last season, Chicago’s Matt Nagy gave up the play-calling when the Bears were slumping.

“I understand, for example, we talk about history, and some (are) there that have done really well and some that haven’t,” Smith said. “Again, I understand what my job is and my job is to coach the entire team and also do that to call plays.”

Chicago’s pass-game coordinator Dave Ragone and Panthers wide receivers coach Frisman Jackson are candidates for the Falcons’ offensive coordinator position, according to NFL Media. Neither have called plays in the NFL.

Ragone, a former third-round pick who played quarterback at Louisville, was with Smith in Tennessee in 2011-13. Under the new Rooney Rules, minority candidates also must be interviewed for coordinator-level positions.

Jackson played at Western Illinois and made the Browns in 2002 after going undrafted. He played with the Browns from 2002-06. He coached in the college ranks from 2008-16 before landing a job with the Titans in 2017 as the wide receivers coach.

“And there’s precedent there that it’s been done and done at a high level,” Smith said about calling his own plays. “I’m very confident if you hire the right people, it will be a collaborative effort and my job, like I said, I will coach the entire team.”

The offensive coordinator will still have a major role.

“Any coach we bring in here, first off, they are going to have to be great coaches and great people and the same set of values,” Smith said. “We don’t want groupthink. That’s why we are taking our time as we go through it and we’ve gone through a huge list already and we’ll continue to do that, with diversity of candidates and guys with diversity of thought, as well. But yeah, those hires are very important, so we’re just trying to make sure we make the right ones.”

2. Defensive scheme: Dean Pees, 71, who was a defensive coordinator with Patriots (2006-09), Ravens (2012-17) and Titans (2018-19), is the leading candidate to become the defensive coordinator, according to multiple reports.

Smith wasn’t ready for any announcements about his staff.

“We’re still in the process,” Smith said. “We’ll take our time. We’ve interviewed multiple people for coordinator spots and staff, and like I said, we will take our time.”

He didn’t want to be pigeon-holed into the 4-3 or 3-4 defense.

“We want to be adaptable,” Smith said. “That will be a big thing here. We will play to the strengths of our team, but we want to be flexible and adaptable, and that’s one thing we are looking for schematically as we go through this process of hiring coaches.”

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Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Dean Pees watches players during an OTA on May 30, 2018, in Nashville, Tenn. (Mark Humphrey/AP)

Credit: AP

Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Dean Pees watches players during an OTA on May 30, 2018, in Nashville, Tenn. (Mark Humphrey/AP)

Credit: AP

Combined ShapeCaption
Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Dean Pees watches players during an OTA on May 30, 2018, in Nashville, Tenn. (Mark Humphrey/AP)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

3. Smith on Ryan and Jones: Smith was asked how Matt Ryan and Julio Jones fit in to his offensive scheme.

“It’s more than Matt (and) Julio,” Smith said. “There (are) a lot of talented players on this roster, whether you talk about (right guard) Chris Lindstrom or (defensive tackle) Grady Jarrett.”

He hasn’t done his roster evaluation yet. The Titans played the Falcons during the 2019 season.

“We are so early in this process,” Smith said. “The roster today is going to look different from today to September and as you get to Week 17. It’s a constant evolution. There’s a lot of talent we want to build off of, but I can’t give you any snap judgment today because we are still early in this process.”

4. Smith on Ryan and Jones, Part 2: Another reporter took a shot at the Ryan and Jones question.

“We are excited about the players we have and we want to obviously go through the whole thing but to give you -- I can’t make a statement today because there’s a long process ahead of us as we evaluate this roster, (new general manager) Terry (Fontenot) and I and everybody that’s going to be involved in the decision-making. Matt Ryan has been a terrific quarterback and I have all the respect in the world for Matt Ryan and I work forward to working with him.”

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Falcons hire Terry Fontenot as general manager to replace Thomas Dimitroff. He becomes the first African-American to hold position for team founded in 1965.

5. Best player available: Fontenot said he’ll make sure the team selects the “best player available in the draft.”

Under previous regimes, the Falcons have drafted for need and have missed out on several top players.

“You never want to reach for needs,” Fontenot said Tuesday. “It’s cool listening to (former Baltimore general manager) Ozzie Newsome tell stories about where there were certain players on the board at certain areas, and they took the best player available, and he ended up taking a Hall of Fame player as opposed to reaching for a need.”

The Falcons have the fourth overall pick in the NFL draft this year.

“I would say we never want to reach for needs,” Fontenot said. “We want to stack the board. We want to be consistent. It’s never a bad thing to add to a strength. You want to get good football players because it’s a long season. There are a lot of injuries.”

In 2007, the Falcons because they needed a pass rusher drafted defensive end Jamaal Anderson out of Arkansas with the eighth overall pick. Linebacker Patrick Willis (11th), running back Marshawn Lynch (12th) and cornerback Darrelle Revis (14th) went later.

In 2009, the Falcons needed a defensive tackle and selected Peria Jerry with the 24th overall pick. Two picks later, the Green Bay Packers selected linebacker Clay Matthews III.

Recently in 2018, the Falcons, needed a pass rusher, selected Takk McKinley with the 26th overall pick. Four picks later T.J. Watt went to Pittsburgh.

“There are a lot of challenges,” Fontenot said. “You want to, at any position, you want to continue to add competition. You want to get the best players that fit the makeup standard. That fit the physical talent (with the) skill set. We have a clear vision for what they are going to be. You definitely want to the best player available.”

6. Offensive scheme: AJC columnist Michael Cunningham has broken down film and checked on some analytics of the offensive scheme.

The key will be if Smith can get Ryan to run the bootlegs that make the attack so potent. Ryan hates turning his back to the defense, so that part of the attack was scrapped after Kyle Shanahan left for San Francisco.

Cunningham broke things down well in his latest column.

7. Assistant coaches: Smith plans to talk to some of the Falcons’ remaining assistant coaches. Defensive pass-game coordinator Joe Whitt Jr. left join Quinn after he became the defensive coordinator of the Cowboys.

“There’s a certain number of guys we’ll talk to,” Smith said. “We haven’t made any hires yet. We’re getting close probably on a few. Again we’re going to be very thorough about this. Just like I told earlier about Terry and I, there’s going to be no snap judgments made. We’re going to be thorough. We want to get it right.”

8. Position by position: Correspondent Jason Butt is doing our position-by-position review of the 2020 Falcons, who finished 4-12, with a peek ahead to what the new coach and general manager may have to work with.

He wrote about the emergence of wide receiver Calvin Ridley. The links to the stories are at the bottom

He started with the secondary and the linebackers.

9. Falcons’ 2021 draft position

1. Jacksonville Jaguars

2. New York Jets

3. Miami Dolphins (via Houston)

4. Falcons

5. Cincinnati Bengals

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