- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 22, 2014

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) - Just two days into Atlanta’s offseason workout program, Falcons coach Mike Smith is calling for major improvement on both sides of the line of scrimmage.

Smith fears the Falcons could bottom out for the second straight year if they don’t change for the better.

“I feel like we’ve lost our way,” Smith said Tuesday. “I feel like I’ve lost my way a little. The emphasis along the way is to be a bigger and stronger football team and win the line of scrimmage.”

Assessing his team’s 4-12 record last year, Smith said the Falcons were most hurt by a lack of strength and size up front.

The offense ranked last in rushing, and quarterback Matt Ryan was sacked a career-high 44 times.

The defense ranked last in third-down efficiency, second-worst against the run and third-fewest in sacks.

Smith reiterated that he’s to blame “because I’m the head coach,” but he likes how the team filled major needs in free agency by signing guard Jon Asamoah and defensive linemen Tyson Jackson and Paul Soliai.

The Falcons re-signed defensive linemen Jonathan Babineaux, Peria Jerry and Corey Peters. They also hired Bryan Cox to replace defensive line coach Ray Hamilton.

On the offensive line, left tackle Sam Baker returns after missing 12 games last year with a knee injury. Center Joe Hawley and guard-tackle Mike Jonson signed new contracts.

Offensive line coaches Mike Tice and Wade Harman were hired. Pat Hill and Paul Dunn were fired.

“That’s where we fell short, and there’s one person that’s responsible for it - it’s me,” Smith said. “It’s not on the guys that were coaching last year. It’s my responsibility, and we’re going to do everything in our power in the weight room, in the classroom and on the field to get that accomplished.”

Ryan has been impressed with the high turnout this week, calling it “maybe not 100 percent, but close to it.”

Despite getting hit 100 times last season - third-most in the NFL - Ryan says he feels fine physically, but the two-time Pro Bowl pick looks forward to better protection this year.

Public criticism of the offensive line was a constant issue, but Ryan, who signed a new contract last July that includes $59 million in guaranteed money, believes his teammates are ready to start anew.

“I think those guys were not naive,” Ryan said. “Those guys took some heat, and they’ve had to answer tough questions all of last season and through the offseason so far, and I think they’ve taken it as a challenge. I’ve been really impressed how they’ve handled it professionally and how they have taken it personally, too, and want to become better.”

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