FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — Mike Nolan knows his second season as Falcons defensive coordinator has been a borderline disaster.
He's not sure if coach Mike Smith and Atlanta's front office will want him back next year, but the uncertainty hasn't stopped Nolan from tinkering with his personnel and schemes to find the right formula.
Asked this week if he plans to return to the Falcons in 2014 after signing a contract extension last January, Nolan says the decision is out of his hands.
"That's the team's decision, not mine," he said, "so that's a question for later."
Nolan has worked in the NFL 27 years, spending nearly four full seasons as San Francisco's head coach and 15 as a defensive coordinator.
He's been in the league every year since 1987, so Nolan is confident a team will want his services, but he sounds as if he believes the Falcons will bring him back.
"It might not show, but I've really been pleased with some of the game plans as far as giving our players a chance to succeed," Nolan said. "And so going down the road, I think there are some things we'll be able to use in the future."
That's not to suggest the poor results haven't tried his patience.
Veteran defenders Asante Samuel and Osi Umenyiora have struggled all season. Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon missed seven games with a foot injury, and defensive end Kroy Biermann was placed on season-ending injured reserve in Week 3.
But several young players have emerged as steady contributors to give Nolan hope.
Rookie cornerback Desmond Trufant, a first-round draft pick, has started every game. Rookie cornerback Robert Alford, a second-round pick, made his starting debut in last week's 22-21 loss at Green Bay as Samuel, who ranks fifth among active players with 51 career interceptions, stood on the sideline for the entire game.
Undrafted rookie free agent linebackers Paul Worrilow and Joplo Bartu took starting jobs from established veterans Akeem Dent and Stephen Nicholas earlier this year.
And rookie ends Mallaciah Goodman and Stansly Maponga and rookie safety Zeke Motta have shown promise while second-year end Jonathan Massaquoi is listed atop the depth chart.