Arthur Blank: The owner’s view heading into the 2016 season

Falcons owner Arthur Blank, during a recent tour of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, took time to discuss the state of the team, the upcoming season, issues around the NFL and construction of the new stadium.

Q: How’s the new stadium coming along?

A: "We are excited about where we are with the stadium. The new steel is moving along very nicely. We've had very good weather. It's a complex building. There is a lot of work to be done. But we're happy with where we are. There are a couple of thousand men and women here working 24 (hours), seven (days a week) to get it done as quickly as humanly possible."

Q: What’s it like focusing on a football season while the stadium is being built?

A: "You separate the two, obviously. Our football folks, our coaches, players, general manager and personnel staff, they are focused on this season. We get cranked up for real against Tampa Bay. We have a difficult schedule ahead of us, both in terms of opponents and in terms of geography. We are playing four games on the West Coast. Three of which we are playing in the first six weeks of the season. But I think our coaching staff has done an excellent job. Thomas (Dimitroff) has done an excellent job working with coach (Dan) Quinn. I feel good about our players and where we are. But we've got to go play the games. If you talk to 31 other owners today, you'll probably get similar answers from them. That's the beauty of the NFL. But I think we are in a good position. The team is definitely better than it was a year ago. Hopefully, the record will reflect that at the end of the season as well."

Q: Do you see the defense coming together to play coach Dan Quinn’s style of fast and physical football?

A: "I do. There isn't any question about that. A lot of that is the younger players. Some of it is the players that were free agents. You have a guy like Brooks Reed, who came back from last year off an injury that slowed him down somewhat. He's had a great series of (practices) and preseason games. Even though he's not a rookie, I would say he's much more fast and physical than he was a year ago. Keanu Neal had a little (right knee) surgery issue he had to deal with, but he'll be back before you know it. I feel really good about where we are on defense."

Q: How’s the offense shaping up?

A: "Matt (Ryan) put in a lot of time on offense working with some folks on the West Coast, working with Kyle Shanahan here and with his receivers and skill position players. The addition of Alex Mack is huge, not only because of the quality of the play that we are getting at center, but it is a bit of a rising tide floats all boats. His stability there at the center of the line takes pressure off of the quarterback and also helps getting everybody else in position to win."

Q: Will having a mega-star like Julio Jones to lean on in key situations help the offense?

A: "Having someone like Julio is terribly important, but you must have other people because the defenses that you're playing against in the NFL today, they are in many ways fast and physical. They have a lot of quality players on the other side of the ball. You have to be able to create some balance. I think with (Mohamed) Sanu, (Justin) Hardy and others, and a running attack, we should be much more balanced. Tevin Coleman has had a good training camp. He'll be a good complement to (Devonta) Freeman. I feel like we're in a really good place, but we have to go play the games."

Q: How often do you check on the new stadium?

A: "As often as I can. I try to (visit) no less than every couple of weeks. It's amazing when you come, just every couple of weeks, you see the progress that's being made. It's really fabulous. It's a great tribute to the workers, the two thousand men and women here that are doing everything that they know how to do, working under all kind of conditions to get the stadium built on time."

Q: Do you have your fantasy team picked?

A: "I do have my team set. I picked it the other night. This is a family fantasy league. There's a lot of competition in my family right now. Some members of the family, including my kids, aren't talking to me at the moment. 'Dad, how can you take that player. I wanted him.' That kind of stuff."

Q: Did you get Julio Jones this year?

A: "I did not. I didn't pick soon enough. I had pick No. 12 and he went early. Very early."

Q: What’s your view of the Colin Kaepernick protests during the national anthem?

A: "I think that, without making a political statement, I think with Colin, certainly the beauty of this country is that you have your right to speak up and speak out on issues. That's a wonderful thing to be able to do that. I don't personally think that the way he chose to do it was the best way to make a statement. Too many sacrifices have been made on behalf of the American flag throughout our history that it should always be honored and always be saluted. I understand the issues. I understand his sensitivity to them. I understand the sensitivity really of all Americans with regard to this issue. I think in that regard we can do better than what we have been doing."

Q: What’s your assessment of the presidental race?

A: "I don't know that I'm for a side. I feel that it's unfortunate for both of these candidates, either (Donald) Trump or (Hillary) Clinton, to have the highest rate of unpopularity of any two candidates to run in the history of our country. I think that's sad. I think out of a country of 330 odd million people that we should be able to produce candidates that are not only qualified, but they have the energy, passion and enthusiasm behind them, personally."