The Atlanta Falcons' new boss has a chip on his shoulder and as NFL training camp opens, is daring critics to knock it off.
Knock off the chip.
And knock off the criticism that he is labeling "disrespectful.''
“It is disrespectful to say we’re not going to be a good football team or that we’re in a rebuilding mode,'' says GM Terry Fontenot. "The players, coaches, staff, and everyone here, we put a lot into this. We’re excited about it. We have confidence in ourselves, and we believe in the people here.”
There is no question that the Falcons have re-invested in leadership and there is no reason to doubt at this early stage that the football team - that is, the roster members - are invested as well. The franchise has itself a new coach in Arthur Smith, and along with Fontenot the leadership is now charged with pushing Atlanta back into NFL playoff contention.
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But critics of the Falcons are not being harsh or unfair or "disrespectful'' to point out the reasons Atlanta had to hire a new GM and a new coach in the first place. The Falcons in 2020 completed a fourth straight losing season, and in addition to the positivity that comes with the premium drafting of likely star Kyle Pitts comes the disappointing reality of having to part ways (via trade to Tennessee) of established star Julio Jones.
There are also cap issues that need continued attention, there is a defense that seems a distance away from being good, and there are lingering doubts about where veteran QB Matt Ryan is at this stage of his overall-fine career.
Asking these questions - or, for Atlanta fans, worrying about these issues - isn't a matter of "disrespect.'' Rather, it's about wondering and worrying.
The Falcons, Smith and Fontenot, of course, know all of this. But the chip on the shoulder is, psychologically, anyway, a normal place for a predicted have-not to begin a training camp.
“There is,'' Fontenot told the team's website, "a bunker mentality with us.''
Good. And "bunker mentality'' is another normal place for a predicted have-not to begin a training camp.