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Atlanta Falcons: Q and A with Mike Nolan
8:00 pm September 1, 2012, by Chris Vivlamore
The exhibition season is over. It counts from here on out for the Falcons. In advance of the season opener against the Chiefs, new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan sat down with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Chris Vivlamore. Here are his thoughts about the unit, John Abraham’s snap count and the role of Ray Edwards.
Q. What are your thoughts about the state of the defense as you get to the end of camp?
A. When it’s new like this, it’s always a work in progress. It still is right now because there are things that you practice, every team is this way, you practice things you haven’t shown [in an exhibition game] and have only done in practice. I would say they have progressed pretty well. The guys have responded well to the things we have asked them to do, scheme-wise and technique-wise. I’ve been pleased with that part. It’s nice to face a little adversity in [exhibition] games, which we’ve had. We’ve also had enough success that we feel good about those things. The challenge is always in the season because you get [the opponent’s] full deal. You don’t get it like the preseason when you only get a little bit. I like the group. They’ve worked hard. A little bit of luck and you’ll usually be pretty good. No luck and … better to be lucky than good.
Q. The defense has really only added one piece this offseason with Asante Samuel. Why will this unit be more successful than last season?
A. If anybody knew that – heck if I knew I’d move to Vegas and change jobs – but you don’t. The challenge and the excitement is just that. You don’t know. How good they can be? I don’t know but I like the group. They are a very energetic, passionate group. Those things are huge when you are playing the style that we want to play. I think that is really critical. If you are not, if you are more somber, the defensive mentality is not there. It’s just kind of blah. It’s a good group for that [energy and passion].
Q. Would the fair way to ask it be that you think the talent is here?
A. I think the talent is here. You don’t have a lot of choices. It’s like playing cards. You play with what you’ve got. What are you going to do? Walk in and tell the owner? That may be the facts sometimes but you don’t have a choice. You deal with what you’ve got. Like I said, it’s a good group. You are always cautious not to get injuries because that changes everybody’s complexion. If you stay healthy and keep the same group, I think most teams will say the fare pretty well during the season.
Q. What are the strengths of this defense?
A. Good question. I would say the strengths, at this point because we haven’t played as a unit in a game, I think they are more individual strengths. What I mean by that is I think [John Abraham] is a strength. I think someone like [Jonathan Babineaux] with his experience is a strength. [Sean Weatherspoon] is a strength. Our players, individually, is all you can really say. Outside of that, it’s not like you can say that our run defense or our third-down [defense are strengths] because we haven’t played. We don’t know. Believe me, the first game won’t be indicative of where you will end up at the end of the season. In some respects, you’d say I hope it does because you are good at something. But whatever comes up a little short in the opening game you want to get those things rectified. Like I said, looking for a strength as a unit, anyone’s guess is as good as mine. Anybody could say ‘Oh, it’s the secondary.’ Let’s caution that a little bit because we are going to play a lot of good quarterbacks too. We’ll see.
Q. What are the weaknesses or areas of concern?
A. I’m excited about the whole group but I’m always concerned about the whole group too. It’s so early to tell. Preseason doesn’t tell. Like I said, I’m encouraged by the group. I think they will do well. I think it’s going to be a good group. We need to stay healthy so that this group doesn’t change. Otherwise you are into your backups and guys are backups for a reason. Adding guys like Samuel, [keeping Brent Grimes] those are all positives but it’s all on an individual basis until we get into the games.
Q. Abraham was on a snap count last season. Do you expect that to be the case again this year?
A. Yeah, I think so. What that snap count is? It will vary. You always try to keep those guys [fresh]. The other thing with him is not only is he up in age but you always want to keep him fresh because if you get into a two-minute situation in a game, you want that guy in the game, you want him going strong. You don’t want him gassed. Some of that is game related in his position. Now, if it was a big old tackle that you are trying to do that too because he is older, it might just be because he’s only a run-down guy and you want to keep him fresh. In Abe’s case, the entire game you need him for all the situations – third down, any pass situation which nowadays is any down.
Q. Ray Edwards was brought here as a pass-rush end. In talking to him, he says he is to stop the run first. Is that how you see him? Is that a change?
A. It’s because he starts in base (run defense) and he’s a backup on the sub (pass defense). So yeah, that would lend you to believe he’s more a run-first, pass-second [end]. It’s an important thing. The objective is to win. There is nowhere, ever, where the sack means winning. Last time I checked, points mean you won. People get a little lost in that because it’s sexy. It’s nice. And it’s good to have those. But you want to win first so you need guys that can create the situation so the other guys can rush. If you can’t stop the run and get people in situations where they have to pass, they won’t and they will take advantage of that. His job is very important regardless of whether it is as sexy as it was once thought to be.