Mike Smith: John Abraham still elite

A year ago, Atlanta coach Mike Smith was getting hit with a steady stream of questions about John Abraham.

The main theme was if the veteran defensive end had anything left. That came because Abraham had just 5.5 sacks in 2009 and had already entered his 30s. Smith calmly answered those questions, saying the Falcons believed Abraham would bounce back and he was right. Abraham posted 13 sacks last season.

But now the question changes a bit. It becomes, can Abraham do it again?

“Naturally, that’s the next question,’’ Smith said at the NFL owners meeting earlier this week. “John had a Pro Bowl and All-Pro season. Some of the things he did backed up that he’s still one of the elite defensive ends in the league. I also think we did a better job as a coaching staff to help John’s production and we did some things in terms of moving him around. We also got good productivity from some other guys on the defensive line as well.’’

Abraham will turn 33 in May, but I wouldn’t bet against him having another big season. He’s always kept himself in excellent physical condition. The Falcons also do a good job keeping Abraham as fresh as possible. They try to limit his snaps in games by using a heavy rotation and Abraham gets plenty of practice time off.

Still, the Falcons may be looking for a defensive end early in this draft after not addressing the position last year. Even if Abraham has another good year or two left, the Falcons need to get an heir apparent. It might not be a bad idea to find another pass-rusher this year because the Falcons don’t have any other true pass-rush threats on the outside. That guy could complement Abraham and maybe even extend his career for a year or two.