Fullback Keith Smith eager for Falcons’ offensive reboot to start

Atlanta Falcons fullback Keith Smith (40) carries against New Orleans Saints outside linebacker Kwon Alexander (58) in the first half Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020, in New Orleans. (Butch Dill/AP)
Caption
Atlanta Falcons fullback Keith Smith (40) carries against New Orleans Saints outside linebacker Kwon Alexander (58) in the first half Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020, in New Orleans. (Butch Dill/AP)

Credit: AP

It has been a tumultuous offseason for the Falcons, but fullback Keith Smith believes the team can rebound in 2021 under new coach Arthur Smith.

“It was just a tough season, navigating all of the change, with all of the COVID-19 protocols and the newness of what 2020 brought us,” Keith Smith told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Friday while reflecting on the 2020 season. “It was somewhat of an adjustment. I think that it took a toll on the team. Just trying to get used to everything and trying to get into a good flow.”

The Falcons dropped the first five games and head coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff were fired.

“We had all of that talent and we just fell short a few too many times,” Smith said. “I figured that it was just the little things here and there, just throughout the season.”

Smith, who played 265 offensive snaps (59%), was one of the steadier members on the offense. He finished the season as the top-rated fullback, by profootballfocus.com. Smith, mostly a lead-blocker, caught 11 of 15 targets for 59 yards and picked up four first downs.

Falcons fullback Keith Smith (40) blocks Detroit Lions safety Jayron Kearse (42) during the first half Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. The Lions won 23-22. (Danny Karnik/AP)
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Falcons fullback Keith Smith (40) blocks Detroit Lions safety Jayron Kearse (42) during the first half Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. The Lions won 23-22. (Danny Karnik/AP)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Smith, who was a linebacker at San Jose State, has successfully made the conversion to fullback in the NFL. He’s played in 95 NFL games and made 19 starts for the Cowboys, Raiders and Falcons.

“It’s always cool to be mentioned high in the rankings,” Smith said. “But ultimately, the real goal is to win games and I felt like we fall short of doing that.”

The Falcons created new ways to blow games last season: They blew double-digit leads; they stood around and watched a live onside-kick; they went into the end zone when trying to run out the clock; and they dropped a potential game-winning interception in the end zone at Kansas City.

In all, the Falcons dropped eight games by one-score and had the 29th ranked defense in the league.

“Anybody that watched us saw that we’ve got the pieces,” Smith said. “We just have to completely put them together. I think that we have a real prime opportunity coming up here this season with all of the pieces that we still have.”

Flip five of the eight close games and the Falcons are back to being respectable.

“Just them close games last year were so heart-breaking,” Smith said. “A few of them were just unbelievable as far as being ahead and losing (those) leads. I think it’s just guys being more committed to finishing. I think that once we collectively all do that, I think we’ll be headed in the right direction.”

Smith is looking forward to playing in Arthur Smith’s offensive scheme.

“Absolutely, just seeing what coach Smith achieved with that offense and Derrick Henry reaching 2,000 yards,” Smith said. “Any fullback loves that type of game where you’re running the ball that much. I’m looking forward to just getting into the scheme and seeing how I can help my team win from that aspect.”

Falcons fullback Keith Smith (40) is tackle by Los Angeles Chargers outside linebacker Nick Vigil (59) during the second Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020, in Inglewood, Calif. (Jae C. Hong/AP)
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Falcons fullback Keith Smith (40) is tackle by Los Angeles Chargers outside linebacker Nick Vigil (59) during the second Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020, in Inglewood, Calif. (Jae C. Hong/AP)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Smith has been in touch with new Falcons running backs Mike Davis and Cordarralle Patterson.

“CP and Mike, both are good dudes,” Smith said. “I knew CP very briefly before and Mike, I actually knew through Todd, T.G., (Gurley) and their relationship. I know they are good people. Their body of work speaks for itself. I’m excited to block for those guys.”

So far, it’s been another unique offseason.

The Falcons voted to opt out of the voluntary offseason program. Their vote was not unanimous, but the players seem to have an understanding.

“I think it was a collective decision, guys kind of met at the minds and just kind of talked about it,” Smith said “Ultimately, we just, out of respect for each other, we all just agree to be OK with guys kind of doing what they want.”

Those who because of the coronavirus pandemic want to work at home can do so. Others who want to go through the protocols and work out at the Flowery Branch facility can do so.

Falcons fullback Keith Smith runs drills during training camp practice at last summer Flowery Branch. (Brynn Anderson/AP)
Caption
Falcons fullback Keith Smith runs drills during training camp practice at last summer Flowery Branch. (Brynn Anderson/AP)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

The NFLPA pointed to the reduction in offseason miss-time injuries by 23% as to why players should opt out of the “voluntary” offseason programs.

“We’re professionals and the offseason, the present offseason in person is voluntary,” Smith said. “I think guys are utilizing that, being professionals, and working out at their home-base facilities with whatever they are dong and still tapping in on these meetings to make sure that we are mentally prepared for this season.”

The team will not likely all meet until the mandatory minicamp, which could happen in early June.

“Just knowing that we’re able to get great work in a professional way,” Smith said. “We don’t necessarily have to be there in person if we don’t have to.”

While the offseason has not been ideal for a rookie head coach trying to implement his schemes, Keith Smith can’t wait to get started.

“I think guys are just fired up and ready,” Smith said. “I’ve talked to plenty of my teammates and everybody is just in their circle grinding and getting ready for the season. I’m excited. Guys are excited. We are going to handle business.”

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