Valdosta Daily Times

Local Sports

January 7, 2014

Falcons’ owner Blank supports Atlanta coach, GM

Atlanta — Falcons owner Arthur Blank fully supports coach Mike Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff and believes they’ll lead his team back to the playoffs in 2014.

In his first public comments since Atlanta ended a 4-12 season, Blank said Monday that despite a major collapse in 2013, Smith and Dimitroff have earned the right to change the team’s fortunes next season.

“If I felt for any version of a New York minute that we didn’t have the right leadership and ability to make that happen in 2014, we would make additional changes,” Blank said. “I don’t think those changes are necessary because I think we do have ability, but that goal and that desire is my standard.”

Blank, the team’s owner since 2002, believes the Falcons could be on the cusp of a major turnaround. He compared Atlanta’s six-year record under Smith and Dimitroff as favorable to the NFL’s upper echelon teams.

Only New England, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Green Bay and New Orleans have had better records over the last six seasons. The Falcons, who are tied with Indianapolis for a 60-36 regular season mark, are the only club not to reach the Super Bowl.

Blank said he expects, at a minimum, that Atlanta will have a winning record and return to the playoffs next season.

“I think this is important for our fans to understand,” he said. “I’ve made this quite public in the past. My goal as the owner, the steward and the conduit for the fans is to put rings on the fingers of our players — for Atlanta and for all of us.”

Blank agreed with comments made by Smith and Dimitroff that the Falcons must rebuild their offensive and defensive lines to stop getting pushed around on the line of scrimmage.

The team fired offensive line coaches Pat Hill and Paul Dunn and defensive line coach Ray Hamilton a couple of hours after Smith and Dimitroff met with reporters last week.

After filling those three jobs, next on Atlanta’s to-do list will be to identify which players the team hopes to acquire in the NFL draft and free agency.

Blank indicated that the offensive and defensive lines will be the primary focus over the next four months. He added that the entire organization, himself included, was responsible for the poor results last season.

“All decisions made related to roster changes are made with my awareness and my knowledge and my support,” Blank said. “They are made by Thomas and Smitty in a collaborative way with coordinators and position coaches involved and our talent and personnel evaluators involved as well.”

After earning a No. 1 playoff seed in 2012 and finishing 10 yards shy of the Super Bowl, the Falcons fell apart during a 1-8 stretch that eliminated them from playoff contention by late November.

Injuries to receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White, running back Steven Jackson, offensive tackle Sam Baker, defensive end Kroy Biermann and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon proved too much to overcome.

Quarterback Matt Ryan was sacked a career-high 44 times and was hit so often that he rarely had time to set his feet and move up in the pocket to complete passes.

“The good news is we understand what the issues are,” Blank said. “The bad news is it’s more than one issue.”

But he expects the Falcons to reclaim the NFC South next season, adding that he has “every reason to believe we’ll go from last to first in 2014.”

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