INDIANAPOLIS — Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff spoke to the media at the NFL scouting combine on Friday.
OPENING STATEMENT: Are we ready to go? Twenty-one combines, it’s still very fresh and I’m interested in every new class that comes along here. We obviously had some very positive things this year in Atlanta. We still have a lot of work to do. We have a lot of tweaking to do as far as our roster. We are always looking to get better at every position. I’m sure that will open it up for a number of questions.
Drafting philosophy, like Pittsburgh and Green Bay?: No question about it, I was very fortunate to come from the Patriots and see what we did in New England. Then when you look at the upstanding organizations that are led by great ownership on down to the general managers and on to the entire coaching staff and you see how they put together the teams, not only schematically, but also when it comes to personnel and the type of personnel . . . I definitely do hone in on the outstanding teams.
Green Bay and Pittsburgh, don’t have many FAs: I personally don’t like to be categorized as a draft guy or a free agent guy. I truly believe that you need to compare both sides going into every year and decide where the strengths are and where the weaknesses are and then decide if you can fix them in the draft or in free agency. I know that was something that I was very particular about coming into Atlanta, to make sure that I didn’t get pigeon-holed as one type of team builder.
System-specific approach to the draft, how does it match up with this draft class: We’ve been pretty particular about making sure that we draft for our system. I firmly believe that it really doesn’t matter what the Kansas City Chiefs are doing as long as we have the player up on the board where we think he fits in our system and that’s where we believe we should take him. Other people can have different scores on other players, but we need to make sure that we have a good fit, not only schematically, but in the locker room. We are very particular about our locker room and we’ve worked very hard to make sure we get a cohesive unit in there. As much as I think at times that we’d like to open up a little bit and think that we could add the challenging soul, it’s so nice as it is and it’s so cohesive right now, that you don’t want to let go of how good we have it in the locker room.
Free agency limbo: You’re going to hate my business as usually response, but truly that’s how we’ve had to approach everything. That’s how we plan to approached the draft as well as free agency like we have any other year. As far as team builders, Smitty and the rest of the personnel and coaching departments, that’s how we are approaching it. We know what we need to do on our team. We know what changes we need to make and positions that we hope that we need to improve through free agency or in the draft.
Strengths and weaknesses of this draft class?: This is the second year that I think we’ve had a very good defensive line draft. The defensive tackles and defensive ends. I think it’s great for the league because for the longest time we had a dearth of (defensive linemen). We are now excited about having some very high producing athletes along the front.
New concussion protocol: That’s a very important thing. I love what we are doing with the league. It’s about the safety of the players. We still have a fantastic product. It continues to be a very aggressive product. It takes a little bit of the gray area out of it in my mind. It makes sure that we have some checks and balances. I think it’s positive for both sides.
Tough sitting concussed players out: That’s a difficult thing. I’m dating myself now at 44, but I remember that many years ago when we were saying, ‘you have to go back in there no matter how you feel.’ Now, I think we are just playing a lot smarter. I think that’s good. As well, you have to be very particular about the type of players that you’re bringing into your room. I think it’s important. You obviously want intelligent football players who make the right decisions.
Rebuilding, how patient did you have to be?: Patience was a big thing. . . .It was very enticing because you had an owner in Arthur Blank who is very generous and willing to open up the purse strings if in fact we needed to do that. We have a city that is very attractive to a lot of football players. We really believed that we would have an opportunity to have some of the first choices in free agency circulating through the National Football League. That was very attractive to me. I mention that several times to Arthur that we could build this in a systematic and calculated way. I’d say, ‘Let’s not be swayed by emotional decisions. Let’s make sure that we are very systematic in our approach. I think that we’ve done that so far. We need to continue to do that going forward. We still have a few tweaks to make going forward.
Coaching staff, continuity: We’re very fortunate to have a coaching staff that’s basically been together for three years. We lost some of our entry level coaches early on and then unfortunately we lost Bill Musgrave to Minnesota. But we’ve kept a good group together. I was talking about how important it was to have cohesiveness in the locker room. It’s also very important to have the guys who are controlling the locker room to stay together. It’s a really good group in my mind. We, myself and Mike Smith, see building teams through the similar lenses. We are very congruent with our thought processes as far as building. As far as the type of players that we want in here. The type of schemes that we want to scout and coach. I think that’s very important. Again, being on the proverbial same page is very important to us.
On New England’s Nick Cesario: Nick Cesario is a fine man. He’s a very intelligent guy. He’s a tireless worker. I don’t know who works harder than him in the National Football League. He’s worn many hats there in New England. Bill has asked him to do a lot of things. Not only on the personnel side, but on the coaching side. You’re talking about a well rounded individual. . . Nick is a top notch personnel man.
On the job Mike Smith has done: Mike’s record speaks for itself. I think over the last three years Mike is third overall behind Indianapolis and New England. I think that’s a good company to be hanging with. Mike has a very unique combination of hard-nosed toughness, but also some new school thoughts and levity about him. I think it really (mixes) well and I think the players really respect him a lot. He’s not a brow beating type of guy. But the interesting thing is that he doesn’t have to get upset or mad to get the point across. He’s definitely silent on that practice field and that’s what I appreciate.
On drafting quarterbacks, getting it right: Obviously, that was huge for us. Coming into the organization, I sat down with Mike and we talked ad nauseam about quarterback verses defensive line going forward. In the very end, we knew that we had to have a quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons to bring us out of the mire so to speak. Matt was just the idea fit for us. He had that combination of intelligence and presence about him. He did not try to come in here and be what the former quarterback was. He respected Michael (Vick) a great deal. That was not his approach. He wanted to be Matt Ryan and that’s how he lead this team from his first year and that’s the way he is now. Matt, by his own admission, is always learning. That’s one of the most attractive things about Matt Ryan, he’s never satisfied. I think there were a lot of agitated and upset people after our final game. But none of them more so than Matt Ryan.
More on QBs: You can ruminate and think about what is the best way to bring the organization to where you need it to be. Everyone in this room knows this isn’t the National Football League of 20 years ago when you, as a general manager, were able to pick three quarterbacks and three coaches or whatever it may be. It’s the ‘Not For Long” (league) and the “Now” factor. Mike and I talked about that a lot. We talked about getting the quarterback who could help turn the organization around now. Matt has been the right guy for us.
On Brian Daboll, Miami’s new OC: Brian Daboll is obviously a very intelligent guy. He’s spent a lot of time under Bill and knows the system inside and out. He’s a very smart guy. He’s an aggressive guy. He’s a good football coach.
Personality and character come into play with QBs, Cam Newton and Ryan Mallett: To me, it’s huge. It was a big part of our interview process with Matt Ryan. We spent a lot of time not only with him physically in Boston, but a lot of time with associates he dealt with. We want him to be the first guy in and the last guy out. We want him to have a presence. We want Matt Ryan to lead the entire team. . . .That respect was something that Matt was able to obtain right away with the Atlanta Falcons from the defense and offense.
How do you discern from extreme confidence and cockiness: Matt, again by his own admission would say that he was a little shaky in his first interview. We sat in our combine room a mile away from here and he had a little shake in his voice. He might be upset with me. But we talked a little bit about it. He was a little agitated in doing something the first time. Matt is a fired up guy. With Matt the way that his confidence was it really came out and spent more and more time with him. We talked and saw him on the board. We talked about team building. We talked about leading teams. We talked about his experiences throughout his entire career. From that you could tell that it was all about confidence . . .He understood the basic tenets of the team concept. He wasn’t pounding his chest about wanting to be the third overall pick.
Newton’s entertainer and icon statements: I think for certain teams it is not (a red flag). For some teams (it is). I think they will research it more. I don’t think it will dissuade them from taking someone with such quality talent.
On New England’s willingness to trade and amass draft picks: Bill Belichick and his regime never cease to amaze and surprise me at so many levels. When you turn around they are getting more draft picks and moving players. . . .He’s been magically in doing that over the years.
On the playoff loss to the Packers: We were obviously very disappointed. We thought we had a good football season. A good regular season and we had two very good weeks leading up. We were healthy and we were sharp. Matt Ryan never looked better in the three years we seen him on the field. . . We got out there and after that first quarter we got behind and couldn’t get back and then we deflated. We realized there that we still have some growing up to do. We still need to mature. We are still a fairly young team. We have a handful of veteran players. We still do have a lot of three-year players that are going into their fourth year. That’s what we are very excited about because in year four is when things really start to gel.
–D. Orlando Ledbetter, The Atlanta Falcons beat blog