FLOWERY BRANCH – Here’s the transcript from Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff’s press conference with the local media on Thursday.
OPENING STATEMENT: “It’s been an eventful offseason for us. Contrary to what so many believe out in the fan base and the media, we have been very active in the offseason with 15 moves within our organization. We’ve been aggressive as far as taking care of what we needed to take care of, keeping our core together. Our focus is now on the Draft. Seven days away our focus is extremely acute in my mind and we are continuing to tweak our board as need be over the next few days. Our personnel department, led by Dave Caldwell, our new Director of Player Personnel and Lionel Vital, and the rest of the staff has been working diligently to continue to provide the information for myself and Smitty [head coach Mike Smith] to get our boards intact and ready to roll at 55, ostensibly at 55. With that I will open it up to any questions.”
ON PICKING THE BEST PLAYER AVAILABLE AT 55: “Far be it from us to move around in the Draft. However, with that said if opportunities present themselves for us to move forward or back we’d consider. I do believe we are in a spot right now with our roster that we feel if, in fact, we continue to remain at 55 we believe we will definitely acquire a player that is going to be very beneficial to our roster and our building of this team. We feel confident that there are going to be a lot of good players around 55 as well as 84 and moving into 157. Again, we spent a lot of time, we’ve known since last year’s draft that we were going to be picking at 55, so our focus has been in that area throughout the whole offseason and into this part of the year.”
ON WHAT POSITION HE’LL FOCUS IN ON AT 55: “Interestingly enough, we’ve focused on a number of positions. We’ve said this all along. We always feel that we can continue to upgrade our depth charts and we’ll always be very mindful of that. With that said, there are probably three or four that we are really honing in on. I won’t get into the specifics at this point, obviously, from a standpoint of what we are going to be focused on at 55. We really believe, as Mike Smith has talked about, we are not about throwing out any sort of statements about what our plan is, any mantra so to speak. This is truly about making this team better, becoming more sound and consistent in so many areas and we think that in this draft, whether it’s along the fronts, whether it’s in the secondary, whether it’s at the receiver spot, that we can continue to add to this depth chart and provide this team with the needed talent to move past that stopping point where we are at this stage.”
ON ASSESSING THE OFFENSIVE LINE: “Offensive line-wise, when we came here in 2008 there was all types of banter out there about the ability of our offensive line and how downtrodden it was and I thought they came back and rose to the occasion admirably and we ended up being a very, very sound offensive line. Offensive lines, as a group, historically you are going to have years that are up and honestly you can have years that are down and challenging. Last year, we obviously had a challenging year. Although we only gave up, I think we were sixth in sacks given up, we had some challenges along our offensive line. We feel we have a good core of offensive linemen. There is no question we can continue to build our depth along our offensive line. We feel we have some smart guys, we feel we have some tough guys, and we feel we have some adept guys as per skills on the field. Whether its run blocking or pass blocking. We all know how important it is to protect, deuce, in our case, our quarterback, in this League and we will always consider the possibilities of fortifying that offensive line. That is something that we need to be very mindful of if we want to continue to take this to the next level so to speak.
ON HOW THE OFFENSVIE LINE PLAYED IN 2011: “Obviously, the fact that we weren’t able to put the ball in the inches at times, that is important to us. We need to make sure that we fire off of the ball. We need to make sure that we get those aggressive yards. We feel that we can. We feel that we’ve done it in the past. For some reason we were at a little bit of a standstill last year and it was challenging and it was agitating at times. We also feel we need to continue to fortify and make sure that we have the stoutness to provide a pocket for Matt Ryan. That is very, very important to us, to have Matt be able to step up in the pocket confidently and with assurance to be able to deliver the ball to what we feel are two very, very good receivers on this team. Two receivers that we feel are one and 1A in the League in the sense that they are both top notch starters in the League, as well as the other players that we have i.e. TE Tony Gonzalez and WR Harry Douglas. We need to continue to protect Matt to be able to get the ball to those players.
ON MOVING UP IN THE DRAFT: “There is no question about it. We have dialed in on certain players at a number of positions that we would consider moving up, if in fact it presented itself. I firmly believe that draft philosophies can change from draft to draft. Obviously, what we did last year was outside the realm of philosophical discussion as far as speaking about drafts. If there is someone there and we feel it’s necessary to move up and that means moving a pick later in the draft or a couple of picks. We are never averse to that. As long as we feel that player can come in, impact this team and in our minds hopefully impact the team as soon as possible. We would consider that.”
ON TRYING TO REPLACE WIDE RECEIVER AND SPECIAL TEAMS MAVEN ERIC WEEMS IN THE DRAFT: “Eric was a fine football player for us and he was a competitor. You never want to lose guys like that, unfortunately he decided to go another direction. For us, we have been dialed in on that as well. Where in the draft we could possibly go and look towards a specialist. At times you can pick that up in free agency as well. Free agency isn’t over in our minds as well. There are always cap casualties. There are always players that become available because of the drafting of other teams, so we are continuing to hone in on that position as well.”
ON THE NEW COORDINATORS’ PLAYER EVALUATIONS:
“No. I think what was interesting when we had those coordinators come in, they were able to step back without some of the cynicism that we would have after a season where we are thinking ‘okay, where are we with this team and where do we need to get better.’ It was very encouraging to listen to the coordinators talk about the respective offensive and defensive lines, to talk about the skill positions that we have here, and understand that we do have a very sound foundation here. We will never come in here, we didn’t talk about radically changing this roster. We feel we have a very good foundation. That doesn’t mean we can’t improve in certain areas and having listened to the coordinators talk about their respective sides of the ball we realized that there are certain positions here that we can go in and really focus on in the draft. One or two here and there where we truly believe that, after all is said and done and we look at it and talk to the coordinators again they will say that this offensive or defensive team, depending on what we are talking about, is where we want this to be to feel that we can break through to the next stage. I know that’s sort of a rambling way of saying there are certain players that we thought that we needed to truly focus in on to get better in those positions. After having talked to the coordinators, we are very positive about what we have at this stage and being able to build through the draft.”
ON GETTING SOME FRESH EVALUATIONS:
“There is no question about it. We had our coordinators here who did a nice job over the last four years. We are now in our fifth year, new approach, new discussion points, not only about the players skills but how they interact, the mental side of the game and how our new coaches are defining their mental aptitude on the field. That is very important. And how, honestly, they are going to fit into the new tweaks of the new schemes we have. That is another thing that is worthy of a lot of discussion with our coordinators because there will be some changes. Some a little bit more substantial than others, but it is important for us to make sure that we have the right talent on the field for our prospective new schemes. That is something that is worth a lot of discussion and there has been a lot of discussion.”
ON WHY SO MANY TEAMS SEEM TO WANT OUT OF THE TOP 10 IN THE DRAFT: “It’s interesting. I have heard a lot about that. I have heard about teams who are thinking about, hopefully getting into the mid part of the round or into the 20s. I think some of the moves that have been made and maybe one would be ours last year, there are more ideas for certain teams up in the top 10 to say ‘hey, there will be prospective buyers to move up because of the money being lower than in past years.’ I think people are just kicking the tires. Some people want to gain more picks because they think they are at a certain place within their roster building that they think they can move further back down in the draft and gain more picks. I don’t think there is any salient point or disparaging remarks about this year’s draft. It is a good football draft. I think people will acquire players in the top 10 that are going to impact their football team. I can’t speak to any specific teams. I just think it seems like there is a lot more discussion about moving out of the top 10 where in the past, you were pretty well firmly set there because of the money. I think people like to have the idea of knowing that they could possibly move out. Whether they do it or not is another point.”
ON THE STRENGTH OF THIS DRAFT: “I think there are a number of good quarterbacks in the this draft, which I think is going to be very beneficial to the League. I’ve always been very encouraged by the ability of some of these quarterbacks to come out and truly contribute early. I think it’s great for the League. I believe that along the defensive line, once again we are in a spot with D tackles and some D ends that are going to definitely upgrade football teams. In the past that has been an area that has been slim pickings, so to speak. I think that’s going to be good. Along the offensive front, the offensive line, I think there are some good solid football players. Maybe not the flashy players at that position, rarely are they flashy along the offensive and defensive lines, in this case the offensive line, but there are some stout individuals that are going to be consistent football players for years to come. I think that is settling for the teams that are in fact looking for offensive linemen.”
ON NOT HAVING A FIRST ROUND PICK: “I’m not sure if weird is the word. It’s something that we have set out since the beginning of last season knowing that we were going to be picking at 55, so interestingly enough as an organization that’s where our focus has been. That is where my focus personally has been. It’s not as much of an impact for me during this time that I thought it might have been when we first made the pick or in the few days after. I have enjoyed the process of being involved, thinking 55 over in the 20s or 22 in our specific case because it really forces and organization to come together, talk about a lot of hypothetical situations that may arise. At 55 we are a long way down. It is very difficult to project what is going to truly be there in and around 45 to 55. That element of uncertainty adds an element of excitement, if you will. I am trying to make this sound very, very positive for the masses. Suffice it to say we won’t be messing up any draft parties this year. At least as it stands right now, you never know. We are always open to deals, but in that situation sitting at 55 our focus has been there and I feel very strongly about the excitement of what we are going to be knocking off at 55.”
ON THE DRAFT BEING HELD OVER THREE DAYS: “That is a situation for us as with most general managers in this League and executives and team builders. The extra time, the discussion about trades, the ability to go back to the drawing board so to speak after the first round has gone through, that is going to be very beneficial for us at 55. It is going to be very beneficial to a lot of the teams that are in the middle of the second round with their second pick to regroup and talk about what may be there and what may not be there. I like it. I like the extra time. I’ve had people suggest that it may be boring in the time in between. It may be boring for the fan base, it may be boring for you in the media but for us, it allows us to have some more time to discuss, though all our boards are set at that time, it allows us to go back and have further discussion. For me the most important thing is it allows opportunity to think through potential trade ideas in the second round, especially this year.”
ON HIS LATE ROUND DRAFT PICKS: “I don’t think it’s different in terms of philosophy. I think for us, I can only speak to how we approach it and honestly two other teams that I’ve worked with and two other guys that I know well as far as their philosophical approach. I will say in the mid to later rounds it is important to place an emphasis on that with your personnel department, to not take it lightly and just assume those guys, the players that we are potentially picking in those rounds, are going to have a very difficult time making the team. I think it’s very important to know our roster. One of the things that I stress a lot, not only in the offseason but during the season, is to make sure that our personnel department knows our roster inside out. We talk about it all the time. If you don’t know your respective rosters in the National Football League as personnel men, in my mind you are projecting, you are just throwing it to the wall. I want all of our scouts from our lowest level scout all the way through to top of the latter to know our individuals inside out, so that when we are talking about a potential fourth, fifth or sixth rounder and we are talking about a player potentially coming in here that they truly have an opportunity to beat out what we already have. That is important. It may sound callus, but it’s about upgrading our talent and we need to know that we are bringing in players that have a true shot at competing for that respective spot. That is something that is very, very important to make sure that everyone in the building knows the importance of that area, not just ‘oh it’s a later round, lets worry about one, two and three.”
ON EVALUATING LINEMEN IN THE DRAFT: “That’s an ongoing discussion. We talk about it all the time. The key to acquiring offensive line in today’s world is versatility. Yes every once in a while you may take, for instance, an offensive guard or a center who are that adept at their respective position and that’s where they are focused. Versatility, versatility, versatility, if you can get a tackle that can play both tackles and possibly swing to guard it is a very, very important thing. If they not only have the physical skills, but the mental aptitude to deal with multiple positions its very, very important. You also go into a situation where you discuss if a player is from a lower level of competition, i.e. 1AA or mid-major or even Division II and in this draft there are players like that. In the past seasons there have been players along the offensive line, in this case, who have competed at lower levels or Division II ball that have all the skills in the world, athletically, power, strength, but haven’t necessarily played against the same level of completion. There is more of a projection there and we have seen that year in and year out in the draft and it’s a challenge to make sure that you are really dialed in to project that type of a player into the professional ranks. I think it takes a lot of time on the board. I think it takes a lot of time in your analysis of the player, again projecting because a lot of times those players in the division II ranks who will be prospective players in the NFL are playing against guys who are 20 and 30 pounds less than them. The adage often times is, that player at that level must dominate. It’s a big, big thing when we are evaluating talent. The dominance at the Division II or III or NAIA level is very important.”
ON LESS PRACTICE TEAM IN THE OFFSEASON: “That is going to be a challenge. That will always be a challenge. I think we are in so much better of a spot this year than going into last year because we know what we have. As you know, Mike Smith is a very, very detailed man and he has everything down to the minute setup. I am confident that our staff will be able to work, as much as possible, with the young guys that we bring in whether they’re a division II offensive player or a division 1A guy that they are going to be able to come in here and spend the appropriate time and the legal time, so to speak, to develop. It will be a challenge, but I think it’s an equal playing surface, ostensibly, and everyone has to be mindful of it.”
ON THE PERCEPTION THAT THE TEAM HAS BEEN INACTIVE THIS OFFSEASON: “I totally understand the thought process and the banter and the discussion. I am sure it’s all very, very intelligent discussion as per why we haven’t done this or that. I understand that we have a very smart fan base and a smart media base. My feeling is that we have been active. As I mentioned earlier, we have had 15 moves. We said from the very beginning when we came on board in 2008 the importance of retention. You all are very aware of our retention rate here. We’re over 80 percent. It’s very important to us. We talked about keeping our core together. It’s very important to us. This isn’t just about making splash moves on certain players. I will say I believe that we probably set the bar over the last few years to do something that is fairly eye catching from the beginning when we brought in Michael Turner as a free agent and Tony Gonzalez the next year, although he wasn’t necessarily a free agent acquisition. Dunta Robinson, Ray Edwards, we’ve had something every year that I think people would suggest that was a substantial enough move. We also projected back in 2008, quietly it has been part of our plan from the very beginning, this is the first time that we have had a draft class, the 2008 draft class, that has come available as far as the contracts. That is very important for us. We haven’t had that before this year, hence our focus on resigning our own players. To answer your question, it doesn’t frustrate me at all. I understand. I am glad you guys are giving me a platform to discuss it and I am open to more questions about it.”
–D. Orlando Ledbetter, The Atlanta Falcons beat blog