Arthur Smith shares the ‘standard’ he wants for the Falcons

Arthur Smith, who at the time was the Tennessee Titans' tight ends coach, watches the action from the sideline against the Minnesota Vikings Sept. 11, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. (James Kenney/AP)

Credit: AP

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Arthur Smith, who at the time was the Tennessee Titans' tight ends coach, watches the action from the sideline against the Minnesota Vikings Sept. 11, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. (James Kenney/AP)

Credit: AP

It all starts up front.

With new Falcons coach Arthur Smith, a great emphasis will placed upon the offensive line. Asked in his first news conference what he wants the identity to be, Smith said he wants this particular group to be “great up front.” At his previous stop as the offensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans, his offensive lines were known for mauling opponents, which helped lead to sizable holes for running back Derrick Henry.

Of course, Henry, who ran for 2,027 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2020, played a major role in many of those big plays, too.

With Smith at the helm, it’s hard not to envision the Falcons seeking ways to get back to being a team that can run the ball with much better consistency than they have the previous three seasons. Regardless of who plays at running back, Smith, a former college offensive lineman at North Carolina, will expect a lot more out of the Falcons’ offensive line.

“We’ll have a certain standard that we want to play,” Smith said. “We’re going to play physical, and we’re going to play with great effort. I know a lot of people say that, but that’s what will be our hallmark. We’ll adapt to the personnel we have. You’re constantly dealing with different injuries and certain things that pop up. We’ll have a standard for those guys. We’ll be flexible and adapt to whoever’s there.”

On offense, a blueprint is there -- at least to a degree. Smith will do his part to improve the Falcons’ line while relying on a strong ground game and play-action passing attack. He also will call the offensive plays on game days.

It remains to be seen exactly what Smith’s preferred style on defense will be. Smith said he plans to take his time in assembling his coaching staff to ensure he has the right people assisting him.

Smith offered no hints on who he will hire other than to say he’s interviewed multiple candidates for the offensive and defensive coordinator positions. He’s not ruling out keeping some of the previous staff’s assistants.

Part of the reason Smith said he is being deliberate with his approach is that he wants to ensure there are numerous voices who can contribute different ideas instead of reverberating the same message. He likened that to “groupthink,” which is what he wants to avoid.

“The worst thing you can do is go hire a bunch of yes men on a staff,” Smith said. “You want guys with experience, you want young guys, you want creative guys. You want to share the same values, but you’ve got to challenge each other. The best thing that happens sometimes is that there is fair criticism and you have to constantly evaluate it. That’s a challenge as a head coach, to make sure you’re getting the right information to you, that people are telling you what’s going on. That happens in different leadership structures.”

Smith and new general manager Terry Fontenot will be operating in a collaborative structure where they will report to team president Rich McKay. During the hiring process, Fontenot reached out to Smith, knowing he was being heavily considered by the Falcons. The two went over ideas and communicated their shared interests with Blank and McKay during their second interviews.

As it unfolded, Blank learned the two were more like-minded than he anticipated.

“The best teams in the NFL have great collaboration, probably in every institutional organization outside the NFL for that matter,” Blank said. “That doesn’t mean styles can’t be different and other things can’t be different. But philosophically the culture and core values are the same. And I think these two gentlemen really share all that together. And they did it behind the scenes before we even discussed it.”

Said Fontenot: “I would say over the last couple of years with what he was doing in Tennessee I was intrigued by him. I started doing my own research. I didn’t connect with him until this year, but I respected him from afar for really the last couple of years and connected with people who have been with him, whether it was Washington when he was a defensive assistant or right when he was starting out in Tennessee.”

Smith spent the past 10 years with the Titans, having worked for four coaches. Each time a coach was fired, Smith either was retained or received a promotion, which is quite uncommon in the NFL. Throughout his time in Tennessee, Smith has been able to take different ideas he learned and apply them to his own coaching philosophy.

Now, Smith is in a position to lay the foundation for his own vision with the Falcons.

“We want to be adaptable, that’s one of our big things here,” Smith said. “We want to play to the strengths of our team. We want to be flexible and adaptable.”