Give Blank credit for speaking mind

April, 8, 2014
4/08/14
7:30
PM ET
The Falcons made a couple roster moves on Tuesday and added some help at safety and cornerback. But the changes in the defensive backfield were a secondary topic of conversation, thanks to team owner Arthur Blank.

It was Blank who grabbed the attention of some in the NFL world when he spoke his mind about something that obviously has bothered him for months.

You remember the 2013 season opener against bitter rival New Orleans Saints, when Matt Ryan absorbed a cheap shot courtesy of Saints rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro? Well, as much as Blank didn't like the hit, he was more upset about the Falcons not coming to the defense of Ryan after he was down.

Blank probably made his point in private immediately after that Sept. 8 game, won by the Saints. But he made his feeling known to the public Tuesday during an interview with 780 The Fan radio in Atlanta.

"And that play really bothered me, sincerely,'' Blank told the radio station. "It bothered me that none of our players, they all complained, but none of them went to the safety on the Saints and did anything. Not that they would start a fight, but just kind of put their finger in his chest and saying, `That's not acceptable.' ''

Blank made his point: He won't tolerate finesse play moving forward. He talked about toughness at season's end and how the team lacked it. It somewhat contradicted head coach Mike Smith, who understandably was more delicate with the way he dissected his team's soft play during the 2013 campaign.

"I want to be clear: Smitty obviously was probably the least happy of anybody in Atlanta with our record last year,'' Blank said. "On the other hand, Smitty, because of being the CEO of our football team, his posture visiting players is a little bit different than mine. And I can afford to bit more objective and maybe more standoffish in that perspective. And I have to be, actually. So it's easier for me to say certain things that Smitty might feel as well but is not as comfortable of saying. But I think Smitty would essentially agree with the same thing.''

Blank noted how Smith showed he agreed with the assessment by firing offensive line coaches Pat Hill and Paul Dunn along with defensive line coach Ray Hamilton. Smith hired Mike Tice and Bryan Cox as the offensive and defensive line coaches, respectively, with hopes of them instilling toughness up front on both sides of the ball.

Of course, the Falcons also added some players that fit the rugged mode in nose tackle Paul Soliai, defensive end Tyson Jackson, and offensive guard Jon Asamoah. They already have a player who defines toughness in safety William Moore. And if more players in the locker room approach the game like Moore, Blank wouldn't have to question his team's toughness.

Give Blank credit for trying to light a fire under his team heading into the season. He wasn't encouraging them to go out and hurt someone. He simply wants his players to play with more of an edge. And having an edge means sticking up for one another. And having an edge means having a meanstreak every once in a while.

It's still hard to comprehend how a team that finished 13-3 and one win from the Super Bowl two seasons ago could fall to 4-12. But despite uncontrollable injuries playing a major role in their demise, the Falcons could have salvage some of the season with a tougher mentality.

That should all change now. Blank has their back. Now, they have to do the same for each other.

Vaughn McClure

ESPN Atlanta Falcons reporter

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