What Falcons coach Arthur Smith had to say about OTAs

Here’s what Falcons coach Arthur Smith had to say before the second open OTA on Wednesday:

On whether he expects WR Julio Jones to attend mandatory minicamp next week: “Yeah, kind of like I said last week, we have conversations all the time with all of our players. There is some good communication going back and forth, multiple avenues. So, we’ll see what happens next week and where we’re at. I can answer that for you next week.”

On what he hopes to get out of practice today: “The same thing we try to get out of every day here. We’re just trying to improve. We’re trying to get our schemes down. Really mentally trying to tax our guys and just get us ready to go. The whole objective is to be ready to go in training camp and be ready for the opener.”

On his process for teaching: “Well, obviously, the way things are set up this year, which helped going from last year was you start virtually. We’re always trying to find new ways to teach virtually, which we started out with. Then, now that we’ve got them here and we get them in person, there are different ways that we try to build the foundation from the ground up. So, you have to assume that nobody knows anything. I think it’s a poor decision to assume that guys are in different spots. I don’t care if they’re a 10-year veteran or a rookie. So, we start everything from the ground up and that’s what we’ve been building day after day and that’s what you will see in the rest of these OTAs.”

On the most efficient way to teach the terminology of his system: “I think you have an understanding that everybody learns differently. Certainly, I learn different from Matt (Ryan) – and that’s no knock on one of us. The good thing about Matt is he’s been in multiple systems. I’ve been in similar systems. I think the easy thing to do is to come in there and try to talk over everybody. Like, I could do that to try to sound really smart and use a bunch of buzz words. The best teachers are very practical. It’s nice to have a reference point with Matt and certain things that he may have (been) done in the past that I may have done and then what we’re doing now. So, it is, everybody’s trying to learn a new language and trying to be practical about it and teaching them what to do.”

On his overview of OTAs: “We’re very happy. I think the guys that have been here have been really engaged. We’re obviously adapting to our situation, which is smart. I think you look at this year after a year where we weren’t coming out of a pandemic and everything else that’s going on. I think whether it’s Year 1, we’ll evaluate, obviously, next year, what we’re doing, but we’re really happy. Like I said, we’re trying to learn the scheme, so we hit the ground running when we’re actually practicing for real in late July.”

On the status of OLB Dante Fowler and whether he expects to see Fowler for mandatory minicamp: “We’ve had good communication with Dante. I think it’s healthy. You have to say what you mean and mean what you say. This is voluntary. That’s what it is. It’s no mixed messages. I think that’s silly. Tell it like it is. We have guys – life happens, a lot of things going on. We’ve got guys in and out of here certain days. A lot of these guys have families and family issues come up. They should take care of that stuff. Some guys are moving. We’ve had great communication with Dante, similar to the question that was asked about Julio. We have mandatory minicamp next week, so hopefully, depending on where we’re at next week, we’ll see everybody.”

On whether he’s learned anything about TE Kyle Pitts that he didn’t know going through the pre-draft process: “We did a lot of work on Kyle when we brought him in here. We’re putting a lot on his plate and seeing where he’s at. We’re trying to bring him along the right way. I don’t think that there’s – there’s obviously when you get taken that high, there’s a lot of expectations – but Kyle has to focus on the day-to-day, learning it and getting up to speed so that he’s ready to roll when the season starts. We value that tight end position. There’s a lot of roles that those guys can play.”

On teaching with the expectation that the players don’t know anything and when he expects them to know everything: “No, I’m talking about when you’re teaching from the ground up. When you go in there and you’re going to teach a history class, I wouldn’t assume that certain people know more about World War II than others. You’re trying to teach that from the ground up and not do it in a patronizing way. I think we’re making good progress every day and that’s really the point I was trying to make. I wasn’t taking a shot saying they don’t know anything, and I know everything. That’s not it at all, so I don’t want that message out there. It’s just bad when you go in a room and you just assume they already know what you’re talking about. You’re literally teaching from the ground up – formations, protections, everything.”

On his expectations for when the team will have the full understanding of everything that’s been implemented throughout the entire offseason program: “A lot of that stuff plays out. You just want to go into camp when you’re not hearing things for the first time. Obviously, you’re going to work your fundamentals and your technique, and you want guys to stop thinking when they break the huddle – offense, defense or special teams – the memorization part is over. So, then you’re learning on how to win the rep and the technique. It all plays into it, so when you do it over and over again, you stop worrying about the things – you know where to get lined up. Now, it’s, ‘let’s go execute.’”

On his expectations for TE Hayden Hurst after his fifth-year option was not picked up and whether he expects him to “ball out’” this year to prove his value: “I don’t use the ‘ball out’ term, no offense there, but Hayden has done a nice job day-to-day. Hayden is a really valuable member of this football team, and we have high expectations for Hayden. He knows that. There has been direct communication, but very pleased with Hayden’s maturity and what he’s brought day in and day out here so far.”

On whether it’s frustrating to answer questions about WR Julio Jones’ situation: “No. It’s a part of the job.”

On whether anything has surprised him in his first offseason program as a head coach: “I wouldn’t say surprised me but obviously when you’re going through something for the first time, there are things that pop up that you try to anticipate. You learn to deal with them and manage your time effectively so you don’t get sucked into a five-minute conversation that becomes 45 minutes, so that you can get a lot accomplished day in and day out, but that would probably be the biggest transition so far.”

On whether he’s struggled to delegate certain roles thus far: “No, we feel very relaxed and really happy with the staff we hired. That’s the biggest part of the job. You’re going through that. You have to hire good people and let them do their job. Set the expectation of what we want and we have a really good staff here.”

On whether a specific rookie has surprised him with their retention of information they have been taught thus far: “Just because of they way we have it set up, it’s hard to answer that. It’s been a really good rookie class. It’s a mature rookie class. Some of the stuff you have to deal with in certain years, we haven’t had to – knock on wood – so far. But they have done a good job. Like I said, we’re trying to build this and everybody around the league is doing different things, but we’re trying to be creative in what makes sense for the Atlanta Falcons, and this rookie class has done a good job so far doing everything that we’ve asked them to do. They’re engaged and they’re trying to improve every day.”

On how he manages to keep himself on schedule: “You want to make time for everybody on your staff and players and things that come up. Obviously, (general manager) Terry (Fontenot) and I talk multiple times a day. It is about managing time. (Coordinator of Coaching Operations) Sarah (Hogan) has a big role here and so does Griff, (Director of Coaching Operations) Brian Griffin, so like I said, we have an excellent staff. Everybody has a job to do and they do it well. So, you rely on everybody. (Sarah) does a good job of keeping me on schedule.”

On his evaluation of OL Matt Hennessy’s communication skills at center thus far: “Yeah, Matt has done a good job. That’s an important role for us in particular, that center spot. There’s good competition there. As we get into camp, we have a couple of guys we feel that can pull the ball well, but Matt, that’s a big role and those are big shoes to fill. He knows that. Alex Mack was a heck of a player here and has had a great career in the NFL. Everything we’ve asked Matt to do so far, he’s done and done well.”

On DL Marlon Davidson’s progress and his impression of LB Deion Jones: “Again, with Marlon, he’s done a good job. He’s been working hard this whole offseason getting healthy. Really happy how Marlon has progressed. Everybody will have the same opportunity. We continue to explain to these guys that the best players will play. It doesn’t matter where you’re drafted, where you come from, the best players are going to play. Deion has been good having Deion around here. I can only go from my experience with Deion but we’ve got a lot of leaders on this team, and like I said, leadership comes in all shapes and sizes and for guys to be themselves. Some guys lead by example, some guys are more verbal, but very pleased with what Deion has done so far since he’s been here.”

On whether TE Kyle Pitts is a fun, versatile talent to design plays for: “We think we have a lot of guys that can play multiple roles for us and that’s what is going to be the fun part about when we get to camp and we’re actually practicing and getting ready for these preseason games. Really on all three phases, we have a lot of players – I know that we were joking about the versatility post-draft, but there are a lot of guys. I don’t want to discredit anybody that can play multiple roles for us. Talking about that spot, Hayden – he can play multiple roles for us – Lee Smith, he’ll have multiple roles, Keith Smith, so those guys, when you get into those base personnel groups, they can do a lot of different jobs for us.”

On whether he’s gotten to spend time with DL Steven Means to talk about life away from football: “Yeah, again, we’re trying to organically develop relationships with all of those guys. Going back to the question earlier, that is, not a challenge, but a fun part. When you go from being a position coach, obviously you know your guys really well offensively, especially when you’re in a spot for a long time and you know those guys well. Now, you’re trying to naturally develop relationships with every member of this team. Steven is a great guy to get to know and he’s a mature guy, he’s authentic. So, very happy to develop the relationship with Steven.”

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