The Atlanta Falcons enjoyed a miracle turnaround in 2008. Now, to take the next step, the franchise must look to fix a few holes in the defensive side of the ball. First, a few tough decisions must be made.
Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank searched every crack and crevice in the National Football League corridors looking for answers. Blank's star quarterback was incarcerated and his coach had left for the college ranks. Just four years removed from the NFC Championship game, Blank wanted to turn around the franchise's fortunes.
Blank called Bill Parcells and got left at the altar.
Blank called Pete Carroll and got a polite, "thanks, but no thanks."
Blank checked in with Bill Cowher and got a respectful stiff-arm.
In the end, it wasn't the big splash hire that Blank tried to make that worked out.
Blank ended up hiring Thomas Dimitroff as general manager and then Mike Smith, a little known assistant coach who'd never been a head coach at any level. Dimitroff, the son of a former NFL scout and the former college scouting director at New England, worked the draft and Smith hired a veteran coach staff.
The two blended together well and the result was a litany of calculated moves that helped the Falcons reach an 11-5 mark and make the playoffs.
"Smith did an amazing job, not only him, but the coaching staff as well," Dimitroff said. "I laud that whole staff. They've done a fantastic job." The Falcons have their quarterback now in Matt Ryan, who started all 17 games and was named the Associated Press' Rookie of the Year. They made tremendous strides offensively.
This offseason will be almost exclusively spent in revamping an aging and leaky defensive unit that played with a lot of savvy.
"This is when we switch gears on the personnel side," Dimitroff said. "I know that Mike Smith will take his coaching hat off and jump right into personnel with me. Mike and I spend a lot of time together.
"Not only looking at our roster together, but looking at the upcoming people in free agency. We'll also look at the draft. There will be countless hours spent looking at the monitor."
The two key moves will center around what to do with safety Lawyer Milloy and linebacker Keith Brooking, two aging veterans who may have seen better days.
"We made some tough decisions last year with (Alge) Crumpler and Warrick Dunn," Dimitroff said. "Those were some tough decisions."
Smith had attacking defenses at Baltimore and at Jacksonville as a coordinator. The Falcons, because of their lack of power at linebacker and few man-to-man cover defensive backs, had to sit in zones most of the season.
"Looking forward with what we've accomplished, we've got a lot of things that we can get better at," Smith said. "It starts with players. It started last year with players. That was adding free agents, a draft class. I think Thomas Dimitroff and his staff did a great job in providing players.
"Coaching starts with players. You've got to have players to be successful in the National Football League."