Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith talks to a group of players during practice this week at the team’s training camp.
ATLANTA — Falcons Pro Bowl safety William Moore, perhaps the team's biggest hitter, blasted running back Jacquizz Rodgers during drills on Monday.
Normally mild-mannered head coach Mike Smith lost his cool.
Taking notice of the rash of season-ending injuries around the league, the last thing Smith wants is to see one of his players knocked out of the season by a teammate. He has stated several times in the first few days of training camp that the team's No. 1 goal is to get to the start of the regular season without injury.
Shortly after his hit, in a loud voice, Smith called Moore over in front of the team while thousands of fans watched from the hill.
He scolded Moore and threatened to send to the locker room if it happened again. Normally a model of decorum, Smith was animated and pointed to the locker room.
He ordered Moore to "tag them off" instead of collide and then called up rookie cornerback Robert Alford to chastise him for wrapping up on a tackle.
"I know you're a tough football player," Smith said. "But that's not how we practice."
Moore was requested for an interview after practice but was not made available by the team.
Afterwards, Smith explained how the Falcons, who were in pads for just the second day of camp, are supposed to tackle.
"We're not thudding as much, when I say thudding in terms of (hitting) the ball carrier," Smith said. "We are whizzing, which means we are taking a good path to the ball and basically playing two-hand touch below the waist."
Around the NFL, four key players were lost to the season due to injuries sustained before teams took the fields on Monday.
Philadelphia receiver Jeremy Maclin, a college teammate and friend of Moore, suffered a torn ACL in his right knee. He just came off the line of scrimmage when his knee buckled.
The defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens lost tight end Dennis Pitta for the season. He fractured and dislocated his hip while trying to make an acrobatic catch.
In Denver, center Dan Koppen suffered a torn ACL in his left knee after being caught in a pileup while the Broncos were working on their rushing attack.
Miami receiver Armon Binns tore the ACL and MCL in his knee on Sunday. He was working in one-on-one drills when he crumpled to the ground.
"The sad thing is, as hard as we work and dedicate ourselves in the offseason, to go down by injury is devastating," Falcons defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux said. "I know how it was. I had one of those injuries in college."
Smith is a proponent of keeping players out of the kind of pileups that cost Koppen his season.
"That is absolutely critical," Falcons defensive backs coach Joe Danna said. "You get guys on the ground and that's where those leg injuries come from. We stress staying on your feet."
Smith intends to control the hitting throughout camp and limit his starters' exposure in exhibition games.
"We'll get our opportunities in very tight drill settings where we'll get our contact work," Smith said. "We'll have some Friday night and then we get ready to do a little bit against the Bengals in the Dome (on Aug. 8)."
A major injury can derail any NFL team's season.
In 2011, Chicago and Houston were considered Super Bowl contenders before losing their quarterbacks, Jay Cutler and Matt Schaub, respectively, to injury.
"We make sure that everybody is aware of what our No. 1 objective is in training camp," Smith said. "We started that back in OTAs and minicamp. We don't want to have anybody on the ground at the end of the play."
In the offseason, the Falcons spent time showing players examples of how injuries occur in pileups. Some are avoidable and others aren't.
"We tried to show our guys and teach our guys what we want to get done in practice," Smith said.
Smith also knew about a brawl the Tennessee Titans had over the weekend, involving more than 20 players. A hit like the one Moore put on Rogers could have led to the retaliation by an offensive lineman.
"We are trying to have efficient practices," Smith said. "We don't want to have fights."