OPENING STATEMENT: Obviously this is the roots of personnel and we’re all excited to be back here, those of us with a personnel background. We had an interesting 2011 season. 2012 is now upon us and our focus is definitely on building our football team. The Atlanta Falcons are focused on being a better football team in all facets of the game. We have had a lot of changes already within our organization from a coaching standpoint [and] organization standpoint. We had some very fine football people leave our organization. We said at our post-season presser that there were going to be some changes and they weren’t going to be tweaks, they were going to be significant changes. That’s come to fruition so far and quite honestly we haven’t even kicked off our player acquisition and player moves. There is a lot still to be done within our organization at this point.
Q: Where are the Falcons with their post-season evaluations, considering that free agency is around the corner?
A: As most of you know, we have 18 unrestricted free agents on our team. Our focus is going to be on re-signing the players on our team that we deem as very important players for us to continue to build and be that better team that we want to be. That’s where our focus will be at the outset. Obviously, we are looking out in the market and if certain things present themselves, I won’t get into the specifics on that. We have the draft around the corner that we’ve been planning for. Though we don’t have a first-round draft pick our focus has been approaching it with [number] 55 being our No. 1 pick.
Q: Will there be some quality for you all at 55?
A: There is some great quality in this draft. There are some positions that we think there is some great depth. I’m really impressed with this draft class. Fifty-five for us in the second round, there are always players that you can get that can significantly impact your football team and we think that we are dialed into some players at that point already.
Q: What can you say about Les Snead and what kind of GM do you think he’ll be?
A: Les has had an opportunity to be schooled throughout the Atlanta Falcons organization as well as Jacksonville. He’s learn the ups and the downs of the business. We had a chance to spend a lot of time over the last four years. Since 2008 he basically had the opportunity to live through my trials and tribulations as a general manager. We talked everyday about so many different things. I think it’s going to be very beneficial for him to step into the role that he has in St. Louis. He’s an adapt evaluator. He’s a very hard worker. A very passionate man as far as football goes. He’s got a very unique and open-minded look at the National Football League. He’s going to bring some very fresh ideas and he’s going to work very well with Jeff Fisher.
Q: How is the running back class?
A: It’s a fine running back class and I think there is some speed there and some versatility. You have some big guys that are going to tote the rock with a lot of power and you have some guys who can catch the ball, run and create. As it stands, compared to other running back classes, this is one where throughout the draft you can [select] some very significant players.
Q: How do you feel about the trade with the Browns after a year?
A: We talked about it within our organization before and leading into the draft, throughout the season and [post-season.] It’s something that I’ve said from the very beginning, our move and our desire to have Julio Jones on our team was something that we feel very, very comfortable with. We accomplished, in our minds, becoming more explosive. We also believe that we need to continue to grow as an offense and we will never look back on our move as being one that was overly expensive. It was something that we deemed was right for the organization at the time. Again, Julio was brought into our organization not for the here and now only, but for the future of the franchise.
Q: Was there something that was holding him back this season?
A: I think Julio had a fine rookie year. He missed three games with a [hamstring] injury [and a major part of two others because of injury.] He was just shy of 1,000 yards. He led all rookies in touchdown [receptions.] He made an impact on our football team that we enjoyed on so many levels. The fan-base obviously enjoyed watching him. He was a guy that you’re always on the edge of your seat waiting to watch. . . We have [high] expectations for Julio in the future
Q: Will offseason workouts help him even more?
A: I think for Julio they will be incredibly beneficial. He’s the kind of guy that’s very passionate about the game. He works very hard. Athletically, he’s right up there with the top ones in the league. I think now, going into the offseason, having the ability to work with Matt Ryan and work on the timing of the game – which is very, very important in this game – it will help him significantly.
Q: What were the obstacles to making a big draft-day trade like that?
A: The idea of giving up picks, I think in today’s game, it’s very important that your picks are there to acquire [players] but they are also there, in my mind, to use as trade fodder. I think that’s very important. I don’t think that in this day in age that you can just sit on your hands and wait for things to always come to you. If you have a desire and you know what you want as an organization, I firmly believe that you need to go after it.
Q: You and sitting at 55, do you all make another splash move this year [to get back into the first round?]
A: Our desire was never to make a splash move. We’ve never made any move in mind to try to boost the brand. . . We’ll always analyze what’s in front of us and the possibility of going after something in the draft as far as moving up and evening moving back. Our history, since we’ve been here since 2008, has been not to move back. Again, that’s probably more the personality of myself, Mike Smith and our owner Arthur Blank.
Q: How does Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon stack up?
A: I think most people would agree that Julio Jones and A.J. Green were at the top of their draft boards and there was a lot of interest. A receiver like Blackmon is going to garner a lot of interest. There are going to be a lot of people contemplating being aggressive about going up and getting a receiver that can be an impact player in this league.
Q: How do you all rate the quality of pass rushers in this draft?
A: The edge pass rushers are something that we covet. They are not always easy to come across. There is a good group of guys that get up the field and turn the corner athletically and burst to the quarterback. We are all searching for that and they come in all different kind of packages. They don’t all have to be 6-4 and 270 pounds or 265. They at times can be 6-1, 6-1 ½ 230 pounds. It depends on the system that you are playing and there are certain systems out there that allow some to rush out of a wide-tackle nine and be very productive. Those same players might not be very productive in another system.
Q: On the value of wide receivers and if it’s higher if they play special teams?
A: When you are talking about the top rated receivers that’s not on our mind as much as personnel men; ‘wow, we want a guy out here who can be incredibly adapt in the special teams category or the return game.’ . . . Versatility is very big in this league at the receiver position when you are talking about the third, fourth and fifth receiver. When you are talking about one and two, most people would agree that you want those people to be lined up for your offensive plays and make sure that they are making an impact on your offense.
Q: [Something on improving the defenses in the pass-happy league.]
A: I believe the defenses are changing. In this league we talk about going as your offense goes and the explosive powerful offenses that are scoring 30-plus points are the ones who are capitalizing on their opportunities and winning a lot of games, winning Super Bowls and championships. With that said, we also believe that you have to have an accomplished enough defense to hang in there with these powerful offenses. The way that the league is set up right now, it’s not the days of old where we are shutting them down and we’re having those 9 -6 games all the time. I think the matchups are very, very important for the defensive players now. We talk about that all the time. You need to match up speed and athleticism and you need to match up power-to-power along the front. I think when you get into building a football team or coaching a football team we always talk about matchups and how incredibly important that is.
Q: With the overall cap room, will there be more activity in free agency?
A: Well, this is a very big free agency class. . . People really like that we’re going back to having free agency before the draft. . . It allows us to make moves in free agency and it takes the stress over the precariousness of how the draft is going to land. I think that is an aspect of team building that I would suggest most of us as coaches, general managers and team builders, would believe that is very beneficial for us. I do believe there is going to be a lot of movement because of the sheer numbers of this year’s class.
Q: Is there another level that Matt Ryan’s play can reach?
A: I believe that there is. I believe that Matt Ryan – I’ve said point blank before and after the season – Matt Ryan is one of the top 10 quarterbacks in this league. I like where Matt is. I like where his development is. Matt is his harshest critic, which I like as well because he’s going to do all that he can to continue to improve, continue to win games and [learn how to] win in the post-season. Again, I love the fact that we have a quarterback like Matt Ryan who’s the consummate leader in the locker room as well as out on the field. He leads by example. I know that he’s going to do all in his power to continue to improve with the years to come.
Q: Is Akeem Dent ready if you all lose Curtis Lofton?
A: Akeem Dent showed this year that he’s got a real firm understanding of the defense for us. He played very well for us on special teams. He’s a guy in our mind that if he’s put in a situation where he’s going to have to step up and take starter reps, he’s going to be competing for that job like the rest of our linebacker group. I said this the other day, we would like to have Curtis Lofton back. He’s a fine football player. We are in the process of negotiating with Curtis and his representatives. That’s been an amicable negotiation and we’ll continue to work on it.
–D. Orlando Ledbetter, The Atlanta Falcons beat blog