FLOWERY BRANCH — The opening lyrics from "The Lion King" could be heard throughout the Atlanta Falcons’ training camp on Tuesday, as safety Thomas DeCoud sang during warm-ups.
But a serious tone will take over on the field for the Falcons this season.
And Asante Samuel may be just what the doctor ordered.
The veteran cornerback acquired from the Eagles in a trade this offseason will look to aid a Falcons’ secondary that gave up 237 yards per game against the pass, which ranked 20th last season.
After finishing the season 10-6 and being embarrassed in the opening round of the NFC playoffs against the Giants, the Falcons had to change their attitude — no more Mr. Nice Guy.
When Samuel was asked after practice about the lack of intensity on defense last year, he said, "They’ve been known as nice guys? Well, we’re mean now. We’re a bunch of mean guys with a lot of energy. That’s how we roll.
"If you’re not having fun, then you’re just going through the motions. Having fun and talking trash, putting the bulls-eye on your chest makes you stand up in the paint."
And that’s exactly what Falcons fans should want to hear.
Call me crazy, but I want to see the occasional roughing the passer penalty. I want to see the opposing quarterback nervous and rattled. I want to see teams afraid of the physicality of the Falcons.
New defensive coordinator Mike Nolan will try to boost the Falcons defense with his aggressive coaching style that should include many more blitz packages. The Falcons had only 33 sacks last year, which ranked 19th in the NFL, and ranked 30th in third down sack percentage.
Basically, the opposing quarterback could buffer his nails and look for his family in the stands before the Falcons could get to him.
This means John Abraham and Ray Edwards must get after the quarterback if the Falcons defense is going to stop quarterbacks in the NFC South, which may claim the toughest division of quarterbacks with Drew Brees, Cam Newton and Josh Freeman.
But energy is needed from more than just the defense, and new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter needs to show it.
Koetter is also known for his risky play calling, which may mean more deep passes from Matt Ryan, who has better footwork than a Justin Timberlake music video.
Ryan will count on the duo of Roddy White and Julio Jones when the Falcons air it out. White had 1,296 and eight touchdowns, but led the league last season with 14 drops. Jones racked up 959 yards with eight touchdowns, but was hampered with a hamstring injury and missed three games and bits of others.
White and Jones are capable of causing nightmares for defensive coordinators if both can stay healthy and don’t drop passes.
If the defense will play aggressively and White and Jones play to the Pro Bowl level they are capable, the Falcons may get over their 0-for-3 skid in the postseason.