Conference Calls: Falcons Head Coach Mike Smith and RB Steven Jackson

Posted Sep 11, 2013

(On acquiring RB Steven Jackson and how he sees him fitting into the offense)
“I think that Steven has a great skill set for what we were looking for in a running back because he’s not just a running back, he’s a receiving back as well. He will allow us to not have to run different packages like we’ve had to do in the past with the change-of-pace back, and allow us to keep the same personnel on the field. He’s got a tremendous wealth of knowledge in terms of playing the running back position, which will help. We’ve got a couple young guys that I think he’ll help a whole lot, as well. That was really the thought process in adding him to our roster.”

(On how Jackson has fit in with the team)
“Extremely well. Right from the very beginning, he got involved with our offseason program. He’s got a great work ethic in terms of weight training, and working with our athletic performance staff. He’s fit in very well and he’s a guy that’s had a lot of success, some of our young players definitely look to him for leadership. I think his work ethic will attest to how much of a leader he is. I’m sure he was that way in St. Louis and he’s that way here.”

(On if the Super Bowl is the expectation for the Falcons this season)
“I think everybody’s expectations are the same when you start the season. We’re all wanting the same thing. It’s a long journey. We want to be a better football team than we were last year. We’ve been going through a maturation process for five seasons here since (General Manager) Thomas Dimitroff and I were hired, and we want to continue improving. There’s many ways to measure improvement, but we’re ultimately just like all 31 other teams. We all want the same outcome at the end of the year.”

(On what he thought of how rookie CBs Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford did in their first game last week)
“I thought that they played efficiently. They were going against a very good quarterback last week in Drew Brees. But, I thought for their first regular season action that they did well. We all made too many mistakes. Obviously, we didn’t make enough plays as a football team to get the outcome that we wanted, but I thought those two young guys did a nice job. Desmond played every snap in the ball game and Robert Alford came in and was a contributor in our sub packages. Both had plays on the ball. Robert had the interception. I think there is going to be a learning curve just like any young guy goes through, especially at the corner position. That’s a position that you have to have a very short memory.”

(On if having young cornerbacks changes how he goes about coverages)
“I don’t believe so. I believe when you try to make alterations because – if the guy has the skill set to play the techniques that you want him to play, you’ve got to go as a play caller and make those calls. If he doesn’t have the skill set, then you have to protect him. But, we really like the skill set of these two young corners and you don’t want to hamstring your play caller just because it’s a young corner. You play to his strengths, and if they can do the things you want them to do and fits into your scheme then you just go ahead and call the game.”

(On his thoughts on S William Moore and LB Sean Weatherspoon)
“Both of those guys have been an integral part of the success that we’ve had. Sean has come in and has really grown into a leadership role in terms of being the leader on our defense. He’s our signal caller, and I think it’s natural for the linebacker to be more of a leader across the different position groups. William has come in and has played well for us. He’s a very physical safety that has the athleticism to play the techniques that a free safety can play. So, it allows us and gives (Defensive Coordinator) Mike (Nolan) and his staff a lot of flexibility. Both those guys have made a lot of plays for us since they’ve been with us.”

(On his first impressions of the Rams’ offense in Week 1)
“I thought they were very efficient. I think it starts with the quarterback play and Sam (Bradford) was outstanding. He completed 71 percent of his passes. I think that there’s definitely been an upgrade in the offseason. I think (General Manager) Les (Snead) and (Head Coach) Jeff (Fisher) have done a great job in adding players to their roster and recalibrating it. (TE) Jared Cook had a gigantic game. He creates match-up issues. That guy can run as a tight end, so I was very impressed with him. I thought the protection was good. The addition of Jake Long, who is arguably one of the better left tackles in the league, was a great addition, and the move to right tackle (Rodger Saffold) obviously solidified their offensive line. There’s some speed out there on the offense. You can see that, and we’re anticipating that there may be a guy that didn’t play last week that’s going to play this week that’s a good, fast running back as well in Isaiah Pead. I was impressed with their offense. It was a hard-fought game and they got the outcome that they wanted. Division games come down to who makes the most plays and the fewest mistakes, and I thought they did a nice job last week against the Cardinals.”

(On how concerned he is about the Falcons’ pass blocking and how they plan to shore it up this week)
“Well, I think the most improvement comes from Week 1 to Week 2. We’ve got to do a better job, not only in pass blocking, but in executing offensively, defensively, and somewhat special teams. I thought our special teams probably had a winning performance. Obviously, we didn’t play as well as we wanted to in the other two aspects. Protecting the quarterback is not always just about the offensive line. It’s about the receivers, the running backs. It’s a complete unit that’s involved in making sure that the quarterback is protected throughout the down. It’s something that we’ve got to address, but there’s many things from Week 1 to Week 2 that you’re addressing as a coaching staff.”

(On what challenges he sees from the Rams’ defense)
“They play an extremely physical style of defense, that’s one of the traits. I’ve had the opportunity to coach against Jeff Fisher-coached teams and they’re always going to be physical, and especially on the defensive side of the football. I think it starts with their guys up front. They’re big inside. They’ve got two big tackles in (Michael) Brockers and (Kendall) Langford and they may arguably have the best tandem of defensive ends in the league. Their production in rushing the passer was outstanding with 22 sacks. Robert Quinn had a monster game, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s somebody’s defensive player of the week. He started off the season, had three sacks and they were game-changing plays. The two corners are really good players. (CB) Cortland Finnegan is probably one of the most competitive players that we compete against year-in and year-out. He loves to play the game. He has a very good understanding of it. The second-year player (CB) Janoris Jenkins, you just put on the tape and he makes plays. Last, year he had four returns for touchdowns, three interceptions and a fumble recovery. So, they’ve got some really good players. (LB James) Laurinaitis is a very active middle linebacker. I was very impressed going through the draft process with (LB) Alec Ogletree, and (LB) Will Witherspoon knows Jeff’s system very well. It’s a good unit and they can roll some players in. I was impressed how they rolled players in up front in the defensive line with the rotation, and that’s something that Jeff and his staff have done for many years. They’re a well-coached football team.”

(On how Snead helped with the Falcons’ success during his time there)
“Les was an integral part of building this team. Very knowledgeable, not only on the pro side, but on the college side and the different roles that he had while he was here. Worked very closely with Thomas Dimitroff in terms of putting a plan together in how we retool our roster every year, and that’s something that happens every season in the NFL. The good personnel men have a much longer view than coaches. Coaches, we work from Sunday to Sunday, and we’ve got to rely on having those guys that are looking down the road maybe a year or two and realizing who’s going to become available, what kind of draft class you’re going to have at certain positions. Les is very good football guy and he’s been doing it a long time.”

Atlanta Falcons RB Steven Jackson – Conference Call – September 11, 2013

(On how he’s settling in)
“It’s going good. Now being here throughout the spring and now through summer, I’ve kind of settled in, which is good. It was kind of a rough start at the beginning because the guys as an offense, they’ve been together for so long that when I was coming in trying to learn the offense, they were already operating in mid-season form.”

(On fitting in to the new group)
“It was actually quite different because over the years in St. Louis, typically we’ll be running the offense all together as a unit… as far as just one individual coming in and trying to get on board with everyone.”

(On if felt strange putting on a Falcons uniform for the first time)
“Actually, it didn’t feel different until I actually saw it on film. When you actually look at it and you see yourself in red and black instead of the blue and gold, it was quite different then. It’s been a little bit different this week studying the guys, looking at them schematically, differently than I have over the years. It’s separating the personal from the business.”

(On if separating business and personal issues has been tough)
“No, it hasn’t been tough. Those guys, they give me a hard time already, so it hasn’t been tough at all.”

(On talking with his old teammates)
“I am. They’ve done a good job of just checking in on me periodically, making sure that things are going smooth for me and they wish me the best of luck on this season. We’ve all mutually agreed that we’re going to play each other hard come Sunday, but after that we’re going to root each other on throughout the season.”

(On it means a lot to him that his old teammates keep in touch)
“It really does because over the years, having so many different teammates, you really never know if you really have any impact on the guys that are there now. Staying in touch with some of the guys around the building, it means a lot. Sometimes when you leave a situation, you’re quickly forgotten because you’re not around but the guys have been good to me.”

(On the advice he’s given to Rams RB Daryl Richardson)
“I talk to Daryl on various things, we don’t only talk football. I talk to him mainly about how to handle being a pro and that entails being on the field and off the field. How to conduct yourself during interviews, how to take care of his body throughout the week and continually how to make yourself better. It’s those dog days where no one wants to go to practice, no one wants to work, that you have to push yourself through and kind of mirror yourself as an engine. When guys are down or you’re having a sluggish practice, you’ve got to come out running hard to motivate guys, to up the ante.”

(On if he ever discussed a revised deal to re-sign with the Rams)
“We talked about just going forward in my career and what were my expectations, what did I want to look for and how did I want to go out ending my career. Once we sat down and saw that they were going to allow me to go to the free agent market, then I left it to the business of my agent. I went away on one of my safari runs and I just got away from it all. I put the criteria together as a list, I was telling my agent, ‘If teams are not looking at using me to the way in wanted to be used, don’t even interrupt my vacation.’ I just let him deal with it from there.”

(On if retirement was a consideration if a team did not want to utilize him how he thought he should be)
“Yes it was. It was a real, legitimate option for me. It probably wouldn’t have been fun now this time of the year because I know I have a lot left in the tank, but I’m one of those hard-headed guys. Once I believe in something, I stick to it.”

(On if he changed his regiment at all moving into this season)
“It hasn’t changed much, honestly. If anything, I’ve been eating stricter. I’ve been on a more of a lean, hard diet of mine. I’ve gone gluten free now. I’m trying to stay away from as much carbohydrates as possible outside of vegetables to make sure that inflammation and the dog days of some of the tough games don’t get to me. I’m able to recover and be ready for the next game. I’m very aware that as the body gets a little older, things slow down. So, I’m trying to just curve and stay ahead of it and hedge the longevity of my career.”

(On working with the Atlanta coaches)
“Coach (Mike) Smith does a good job of facilitating the team overall even though he comes from a defensive background, but he spends a lot of time with the offense. He’s very knowledgeable about his opponents and preparing a team, making sure that we know the guys that we’re getting ready to face. But, he does a really good job also of being in constant contact with guys on and off the field, so you really feel like you’re really getting to know someone that genuinely cares about you. As far as (Offensive Coordinator Dirk) Koetter, we actually go back some years. He recruited me in college, so when he was Arizona State I was coming out as a young man. We had some history there, so it was really cool to actually now work together and be under his tutelage. He does a really good of play calling, and I can only imagine the stress he’s under upstairs because he has a lot of guys to get the ball to. As far as the offense itself, a lot of playmakers and a huddle full of guys that are capable of doing things but a lot of guys that are not selfish. No big egos and that was a pleasant surprise because you never know. You have some guys, even like with (TE) Tony (Gonzalez), a future hall of famer, you never know, are they willing to take one for the team? But these guys in the huddle have been absolutely, it’s been a smooth transition and absolutely good to me.”

(On if his leadership approach changed)
“I’ve come in quietly and just been myself. I believe one of the attributes of a strong leader is knowing when to lead and when to back off and follow. This year, I’ve really taken on that role of just sitting back, allowing the guys to continue to operate the way they have over the years. If I see a need to step up and say something, especially to the offensive line, that’s when I’ll step in and take my leadership role. But other than that, I’ve just actually fallen back and taken on being a follower just trying to see how things are done around here in Atlanta.”

(On what he sees from the Rams defense)
“I see (DE) Robert Quinn has a great track stance and he’s getting off the ball as fast as ever. All jokes aside, the guys are playing good. You can see that they’re definitely comfortable in their second year with (Head) Coach (Jeff) Fisher. They’re playing tough football, smart football and they’re as physical and feisty as ever. The very thing that when Coach Fisher came in and that the Rams are going to be, they’re doing that, and the guys have started off great as in Week 1.”

(On if he’s extra motivated to play his old team)
“I’d be lying to say I don’t want to get the win, of course I want to get the win, but I have to come out there and just remain in the zone, in my focus and not get too up. When you allow emotions to take over, your wind becomes short, you’re not even thinking, you’re not on you’re A-game. So, I have to remind myself to stay in control, have the intensity that I normally play with, but dial-in and treat this game as if it’s one that I’m preparing and I have done over the years.”

(On what he misses about St. Louis and Rams Park)
“There’s a few things definitely that I miss about St. Louis. One is being with my family. I still have family in the area. And two, outside of everything over the difficulty over the years, a lot of my teammates were actually the staff. The equipment, the training staff, the people upstairs in the front office, those people that didn’t turnover, those actually are the people that I miss. When I left, I knew I wouldn’t have that contact anymore, so although I’ve been able to stay in contact with my former teammates, it’s been hard not to be able to talk to some of the people in the building that I’ve seen over the years, the last, past nine.”

(On if his departure from the Rams was as smooth as it seemed from the outside)
“When two parties go separate ways, there’s always going to be somewhat of a sour taste in one or both parties’ mouths. But I think this one, we handled it as professionally as possible and I can only thank the ownership for that.”