FLOWERY BRANCH – Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Mike Smith agreed that this was the toughest year that they’ve had trimming the roster down to 53 players.
Veterans like linebacker Spencer Adkins, cornerback Dominique Franks and long snapper Joe Zelenka were released. While undrafted players like quarterback Dominique Davis, guard Phillipkeith Manley and long snapper Josh Harris won jobs.
In an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about the 53-man roster, Dimitroff talked about the rationale behind those decisions.
ON THE BACKUP QUARTERBACK SITUATION: We were very respectful of Chris Redman and JP [John Parker Wilson] over the last few years being around here. In the end, we realized that it was in the best interest of the organization to bring in Luke McCown, someone who Dirk Koetter had for three years at Jacksonville. He had a really good feel for him as well. We thought that Luke could come in and continue to help school a younger quarterback in Dominique Davis, who we think has potential to develop into a legitimate No. 2 in this league, if not more.
ON THE RUNNING BACK GROUP: It’s pretty similar to where we’ve been. We have a good level of comfort with that group because we feel that it has a little bit of everything in there. It has some speed. It has some power. It has toughness. That group has the ability to catch and run. They are smart football players that fit in well with our system.
ANY INTEREST IN OVIE MUGHELLI? As it stands right now, we are comfortable with Lou Polite being here.
ON THE OFFENSIVE LINE GROUP: We have spoken all offseason about how important it is to protect Matt Ryan and really have an increased focus on this offensive line. Not only with our veteran group, but truly focusing and working with our young group in attempting to develop a group of players that are going to be here for a long time protecting Matt Ryan. That’s important to us. We continue to realize how important it is to have an element of increased stoutness, to fortify that line, to make sure that the pocket is not collapsing. [We have to provide] Matt with the opportunity to stand in the pocket and get the ball to our playmakers. Not to mention, get off the ball in the run game and move people off the ball and get those tough yards.
ON THE TIGHT END GROUP: It’s a situation where two guys have had the opportunity to be under the player tutelage of Tony Gonzalez. They have had an opportunity to be around a guy like Tony. Combined with coach (Chris) Scelfo’s focus within the group . . .he does a fantastic job with that tight end group. Those tight ends are all evolving into legitimate No. 2s and No. 3s. They just need to stay healthy for us. It’s a good mix of players with different skill sets. That’s always a positive when you are putting together a tight end group. We like what we have right now.
ON ROBERT JAMES AND THE LINEBACKER GROUP: Smitty and I were very pleased with the evolution of Robert. He had a tough start. He’s continued to focus and be resilient with his approach to this game both on and off the field. He had a real nice and aggressive preseason. He showed the urgent athleticism that we are looking for that can help us both on teams as well as potentially in [nickel] defense.
ON JAMES BEATING OUT SPENCER ADKINS: In the end that was a really close battle. It came down to the very end. Spencer has done some nice things for us here. He was respected here. It came down to a numbers situation between the two.
ON THE DEFENSIVE LINE GROUP: We kept six defensive ends. We all think they can play. There is a nice mix of talent there as well. I think that you’ve seen the over-riding theme that we have is versatility in all of our groups that make it very, very interesting. Specifically, at the defensive end group we have a combination of the fast, up-the-field guys who can turn the corner combined with other guys in that group who were stout and strong guys who can hold the edge. We have a group of guys in that defensive end group that are high motor guys. Some are young and have some real upside. We weren’t sure at the outset if we were going to keep six or not, we feel that group can contribute on special teams given their level of athleticism and play speed.
ON THE DEFENSIVE TACKLES: That is a really interesting group. [Travian Robertson] is a strong guy who can hold the point and push up field and collapse the pocket. It’s been encouraging to watch a young guy like that inside who can develop. We all know that’s a rough and tumble area. You have to be mentally and physically tough. He’s done a nice job with that.
ON THE SECONDARY: It really came down to Franks and [Robert] McClain. That’s what it came down to. [Christopher] Owens was slotted in there as the four. We needed to get him healed up which he’s doing a good job with. It came down to those two. It was a really close battle. Dominique Franks has skills to play in this league. There is no question in my mind that he’ll play again. We just felt that it was in the best interest given what McClain offers to this football team with his speed, quickness and urgency that we thought it was beneficial for us to go in that direction.
McCLAIN WAS ON YOUR RADAR FOR MORE THAN A YEAR: [He’d been in for two tryouts previously.] He’s a really dialed in guy and a real focused guy, who works hard. It’s a credit to him for sticking with it because he came into a situation with a lot of corners in that group and he knew it was going to be a major battle in the end and he won out.
HOW DID HE WIN IT?: There were just a lot of things when we compared the whole body of work with both players. It was really, really close. It wasn’t like . . . . it was close. It came down to the very end.
ON SPECIAL TEAMS: That was another battle and another very difficult decision. You have a guy like Joe Zelenka, who’s a top notch person and a very talented snapper against a young guy who was really driven to work very, very hard at developing and he did develop over the offseason and into the spring and into this preseason. It was another battle that went right down to the very, very end. We just decided that it was in the best interest for the long term success of this team that we went with Josh over Joe.
ON HARRIS’ BLOCKING: He did a good job. Combine that with his placement and his consistency, as well as he’s a smart guy who works at it. He’s a no nonsense guy.
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