The Falcons’ GM: ‘Sniffing the pits’ and seeking consistency

Here's Thomas Dimitroff, close enough to sniff Jerious Norwood. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Here's Thomas Dimitroff, within sniffing distance of Jerious Norwood during a scrimmage at Brookwood last summer. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Thomas Dimitroff was calling from a car parked outside Orlando’s Citrus Bowl, site of this weekend’s East-West Shrine Game. He was about to watch a practice, and he was looking forward, as scouts say, to “sniffing the pits.” Once a scout, always a scout.

But there’s a philosopher inside the Falcons’ general manager as well, and before he got around to discussing where his team is headed he recalled where it had been. Dimitroff arrived in January 2008 with franchise fortunes at an all-time nadir. “There was definitely uncertainty,” he said, understating, and then the 2008 Birds unaccountably began to win.

Continuing the narrative: “Along the way we had an evolving confidence. It wasn’t a swagger yet. And this year there was a lot of optimism and legitimate expectation, but inconsistency tugged at our success.”

Note the “in-” word Dimitroff deployed — not “injuries” but “inconsistency.” The 2009 Falcons were unlucky in that so many of them got hurt, but the greater issue, at least to TD the GM, was that those who were healthy enough to play didn’t play to the same level every time out.

The season’s watchwords were “urgency” and “consistency.” Consider half the battle won. Said Dimitroff: “We felt we achieved the urgency; we were definitely faster on the defensive side. What stood out most was the consistency — that was most unsettling to me.

“Consistency is one of my crosses. I know nothing is going to be perfect, and there’s no question injuries play into inconsistency. But I want to stress we’re not a team of excuses.”

Many people, some of whom work at 4400 Falcon Parkway in Flowery Branch, got giddy over the breaking of the no-consecutive-winning-seasons drought. Dimitroff wasn’t among them. “Having a winning season was big for our organization and our city,” he said, “but it wasn’t necessarily our goal.”

Remember: He came from New England, where winning seasons are expected and anything short of the playoffs is a failure. As he watches the postseason unfold on TV, “I get agitated by the fact we weren’t in the tournament. There’s no question it’s an empty feeling.”

Toward that end: One round of pit-sniffing in Orlando and another at the Senior Bowl in Mobile next work. Then 2 1/2 more months of due diligence regarding free agency and the draft. Regarding the latter, the belief in this space is that the Falcons will take some sort of edge player — not to say, “edgy player,” though they’d like that, too — in Round 1, be he an outside linebacker or a defensive end.

The question, though: Can you land a big-time pass rusher with the 19th (or 20th, depending on a coin flip with Houston) pick? Dimitroff: “I believe you can, yes. You can even get them in Round 2 or Round 3 if it’s somebody who has been passed over because of a shortcoming. A pass rusher doesn’t have to be 6-foot-4 and 264 pounds to have an effect.”

An example: The 2008 NFL defensive player of the year was James Harrison of the Steelers. He’s an outside linebacker who stands 6-foot and weighs 242 pounds. He wasn’t drafted in any round.

Asked about Lawrence Sidbury, the fourth-round defensive end who just completed his rookie season, Dimitroff said:  “I think he has a future. I see him being a nice rotational pass rusher. The ball’s in his court as to whether he can take it to the next level.

And now you’re asking: What about cornerbacks? Is Dimitroff going to draft one, two, three of those? The guess: Maybe one, maybe high, but not a slew. Because this GM isn’t ready to write off Chris Houston and Brent Grimes and Christopher Owens, no matter how overmatched they might have appeared. Dimitroff on his cornerbacks: “I see some very good fast athletes who are still growing.”

Two moves to note: Emmitt Thomas wasn’t retained as the Falcons’ secondary coach, and Ron Medlin was let go after 16 seasons as trainer. Under Dimitroff and Mike Smith, the Falcons don’t operate on whims. If two longtime employees are no longer with the organization, there’s a reason.

Under Dimitroff and Smith, the Falcons aren’t satisfied with coming close. “Going forward, the overriding element is to seriously reflect on what went awry and what needs to be tweaked, and we’re talking about minor tweaks.”

Maybe the tweaking is a matter of coaching the defensive backs differently. Maybe it’s an upgrade in strength and fitness and nutrition. Whatever the case, TD the GM is on it.

“There’s a drive,” Dimitroff said, “to prove we are legitimate playoff contenders.” And nothing less.

118 comments Add your comment

FoxNoise.net

January 21st, 2010
7:21 am

Dimi’s so good it brings tears to my eyes.

Falcon Tradition

January 21st, 2010
7:24 am

falcon

January 21st, 2010
7:24 am

The future is in good hands with Dimitroff and Mike Smith. Can’t wait to see who we draft this year.

Falcon Tradition

January 21st, 2010
7:26 am

OK…so I wasn’t first.
Very interesting article. It will be interesting to see who is hired to coach the DBs.

florida falcon

January 21st, 2010
7:26 am

2nd! or 3rd! or 4th!-Whatever, kepp it up dirty birds!!!!!! We believe!

The Real FALCON

January 21st, 2010
7:29 am

Great post. The right man for the job! Edge is good.

Bubba

January 21st, 2010
7:37 am

Gotta like this GM’s train of thought. No, you don’t give up on the corners you have. It’s a tough position to play, especially with the NFL’s pass-happy rules. Throw youth into the mix, and you create a real trial-by-fire scenario. TD says it’s a process, and the process says tear them down to build them up (a la Full Metal Jacket). Consistency is the key. A high draft pick doesn’t star without a good supporting cast, and a good supporting cast doesn’t develop overnight.

TD’s got the right mind set. It’s one thing to be happy to make the playoffs. It’s another thing to expect to make the playoffs every year, and compete for the Super Bowl. Draft for consistency, and stars will develop.

Alan

January 21st, 2010
7:44 am

Its great to have confidence in the GM and Head Coach, as a Falcon I have never ever had this feeling but these past two years lets you know that we are headed in the right direction. GO FALCONS AND GO SOUTHERN RUSH.

Mark Bradley

January 21st, 2010
7:45 am

FoxNoise.net warrants the kudos. But actually you all do. It’s still pretty early the a.m., at least by my standards.

F-105 Thunderchief

January 21st, 2010
7:49 am

Owens and Grimes have talent, but are too short. They have room to grow, but won’t grow the way they most need to – up.

Bailer

January 21st, 2010
8:00 am

I have been here all and I mean all the years of Falcon football. If I die tonight I have witness how a real org.is put together and run . Thanks MR b.

ignition

January 21st, 2010
8:16 am

Brent Grimes had 5 interceptions this year and he wasn’t even a fulltime starter. Owens 2. With more PT, study, and a better pass rush we may have 2 really solid young corners.

lanier

January 21st, 2010
8:17 am

F-105 you are exactly right but the Falcons never seem to learn this. In the 1980 2nd round playoff they lost to Dallas in the final minutes because their CB Rolland Lawrence ( a great player ) was 5-10. at least in the roster stats.
I am 5-10 and standing beside him am a good bit taller so Grimes ect are really probably 5-8 or 5-9

Chef Mentuer

January 21st, 2010
8:21 am

GO SAINTS!!!!!!!!!!

NCFalconFan

January 21st, 2010
8:26 am

Good article Bradley. I’m still worried about the CB situation. I understand why the coaching staff is in awe of Grimes at times (I still go to the NFL.com and watch that INT by Grimes of Brees on MNF — what a catch!!) However I would like for us to go out and get a proven veteran for the position during free agency. Also what is going to come of Tye Hill, who showed absolutely nothing this season? Can you enlighten us (or maybe just me) on what to expect this year regarding free agency, labor talks, CBA, etc. So very confusing.

SimpleDawg

January 21st, 2010
8:26 am

The trend is to bigger WR. Small corners will soon be a thing of the past.

Can’t teach height.

Must have a pass rusher.

Bank Walker, Texas Ranger

January 21st, 2010
8:28 am

If Norwood is not retained, would Spiller be the answer. I think he would.

FalconFan

January 21st, 2010
8:29 am

We could use one big tall physical corner. However, I would not give up on Grimes and Owens either. I think they are both playmakers. Houston on the other hand should go.

SirReal

January 21st, 2010
8:30 am

Mark do you think our DBs get called out so much b/c of lack of pass rush? I think if they only had to cover for 3-4 seconds vs. ALL DAY against QBs that stand taller than the Empire State Building that they would actually be solid. I think Grimes is VERY solid….just short.lol

SirReal

January 21st, 2010
8:31 am

FalconFan, I agree…..Houston needs to go the way of the typewriter.lol

RomeDawg

January 21st, 2010
8:32 am

Hey Argo,

Maybe if they hired Paul Johnson they would be Superbowl Champs? That offense is unstoppable!

SCFalcon

January 21st, 2010
8:32 am

If we can get Clemson WR Jacoby Ford in the later rounds, please do. We could use that speed in the slot.

Lesa

January 21st, 2010
8:35 am

Anybody else think Dimitroff is hot? I know this is a male-dominated blog, but Atlanta has recently been dubbed America’s gayest city. But I digress . . .

I am excited about the draft and feel confident that TD and Smitty will make good choices. I love TD’s emphasis on consistency and steady progress. I think the Falcons will finally become a consistent winner under his watch.

Bank Walker, Texas Ranger

January 21st, 2010
8:35 am

SirReal, that’s part of the problem but we don’t have a lock down corner. Check out the Jets, that D is based on their corners. They don’t have a great pass rush. As for big tall physical corner, there is no such thing. I heard that small corners are a thing of the past for 20 years, maybe a far back as Mel Blount. Thing is they ain’t none. It is much more difficult for a taller guy to execute the foot work needed to be a great corner. They will always be around 5′10, 5′11.

FalconFan

January 21st, 2010
8:36 am

Mckay’s last draft with Petrino really was a missed opportunity for the Birds with Jamal Anderson a 1st and Chris Houston a 2nd. Imagine where we would be if we had utilized those picks better.

Philip(formerly ScoobySnacks)

January 21st, 2010
8:39 am

Can we get a movement going to hire Deon Sanders as DB coach. Primetime anyone….hunh…hunh….come on who’s with me.

Mitch (the one in Rome)

January 21st, 2010
8:41 am

I don’t agree that taller corners are better corners. That is just not true when it comes to playing the game. Taller receivers are not necessarily better receivers. Wes Welker can out play Roy Williams with one hand and blind.
Corner is a position that requires a player to rotate hips at full speed without losing a step while playing the quarterback, receiver and ball. That is not height specific. It is mental and motor skill. Grimes proved that this year. His height did NOT hurt him. Rotating to the ball did. That can be fixed with practice. I’m not giving up on Owens and Grimes and Houston either. They can play the spot.
I coach line backers in high school, and know what scouts are looking for and height is not number 1 on the list for corners or backers for that matter. Quickness, footwork, hip rotation, etc. Our guys have some intangible and can play the position. With a pass rush this year we would be talking about how stellar our guys were.
Dude, they had to cover for 5-7 seconds on some downs. Most corners in the NFL can’t do that.
Pass Rush!!!!

Lance

January 21st, 2010
8:45 am

Hey Lesa,

I definitely think Tommy D is hot. That spiky hair, slim physique, and from that picture-perfect calfs….mmmmmmmmm, delicious.

It’ll be very interesting to see what moves are made over the next few months.

FalconFan

January 21st, 2010
8:47 am

Mitch I agree with most of what you said. We do not need a giant corner but one at least 6-0 to 6-1 would help. You are right about the pass rush. But I disagree about Houston. He never plays the ball and our D improved after he was hurt and Grimes and Owens became the starters.

dean

January 21st, 2010
8:54 am

Phillip(formerly….)

I hear Roland Lawrence is available to coach the DB’s.

PreyDawg

January 21st, 2010
8:58 am

I will keep posting this until it is discussed. The defense in the second half was adequate to get us a wild card. Yes. It needs improvement, but in my opinion a lack of explosiveness on offense was a bigger issue and Coach Smith or TD have not been pinned down about it. I am talking BEFORE Turner got hurt. What about those two or three games where Turner was running out of his head good. The passing game was minimal. Why did we spend so much time this year in max protect with two receivers going out? One of two reasons, Mularkey is incompetent (dont think that is it). Or Mularkey doesnt trust the protection.

I think it is the latter. If we could do more with 4 receivers going out we win both Saints games and most certainly Carolina. Then we are in the tournament with the “D” we have now.

T Dub

January 21st, 2010
9:01 am

I say bring in PrimeTime to coach the DBs!!!!!!

J-Bone

January 21st, 2010
9:04 am

We definately need a pass rusher off the end. Its time to say goodbye to Jamaal Anderson. He hasnt done anything to show me hes improving. If we actually had someone on the opposite side of Abraham that could draw a little attention, our pass rush would be fierce.

Falconz fan

January 21st, 2010
9:04 am

MB, any idea on who they might hire as DB coach? I think they should definitely draft defense first and show Anderson and Houston the door.

Ryan

January 21st, 2010
9:04 am

Um, what does “The ball’s in his court as to whether he can take it to the next level.” mean exactly?

Maybe I’m just too cynical after all of the MLB scandals, but that sounds questionable.

Because if it’s a matter of just learning how to play the position better, isn’t that ball in the court of the coaches too?

TD is the Truth

January 21st, 2010
9:07 am

It’s a report like this that makes me confident Dimitroff is going to keep loading the Falcons organization with the kind of talent it needs to make the Falcons annual playoff contenders. I love the way he views the organization and where it needs to go, and I love the way he calculates every move he makes.

That being said, you have to think that TD is going to scout a number of players who might be available at 19, and then take the best of whichever is there that fills a need; be that an edge rusher, corner, an OL, or an explosive RB.

How freakish was our ‘08 Draft Class? Ryan, Baker, Lofton, Douglas, Decoud, Biermann, all starters or significant contributors (with the exception of Douglas and his unfortunate injury). I think we can be patient and see how Jerry, Moore, Owens, Sidbury, Reynolds, Adkins and Walker develop (though Walker was a heck of a pick in the 7th round).

Jack

January 21st, 2010
9:10 am

After watching the Falcons get beat to death by the Eagles and most of Atlanta chearing on the Eagles it’s funny to see people here talk positive about the team, I know there are those who aren’t fairweather fans but I would say most of Atlanta is, if what happened during the eagles game happened in Kansas city I promise you would have been thrown off the highest point of the stadium…Atlanta fans suck! After 7 seasons as a season ticket holder…I’m done!

FalconFan

January 21st, 2010
9:10 am

PreyDawg I agree that the offense was disappointing this year. I still believe in Mularky but he seemed to have a off year,at least compared to last year. And I agree that the offensive line could stand some improvement. It would be nice to get a true shut down LT and move Baker to RT.

Falconz fan

January 21st, 2010
9:11 am

Grimes could be a very good nickel CB but he’s not an NFL starter in my opinion. Dude has heart but he’s about 5′6″ at best. Owens came along pretty good at the end of the season. I think getting one very good CB would drastically improve the D. Chevis Jackson and Ty Hill are just taking up roster spots.

TD is the Truth

January 21st, 2010
9:12 am

And Mitch is spot on. We need to become elite at the point of attack, and then everything else will fall into place. If you have a deadly pass rush in this league, it will make the job much easier for our corners. We played some good-to-elite QBs over the tough stretch of our season who were protected by very good O-lines. As a result, we didn’t get much pressure up front, and our corners, who were young and inexperienced, were left out to dry. It’s not very surprising that towards the end when we began to really get good pressure that Grimes and Owens improved the way they did.

Lamar Maddox

January 21st, 2010
9:15 am

5′ 10″ to 5′ 11″ is the average height for NFL corners. Check the team rosters. Grimes problem was not his height, and he has great leaping ability. Grimes problem is his strength, and his technique. He was almost getting knocked down when trying to jam receivers, He was getting pushed off on the receivers break. Grimes just needs to get stronger and work more on his technique. Toward the end of the season, you didn’t see that problem. Owens on the other had is the same size with more strength, and is more physical, he problem was youth. He has good technique, but he struggle with route recognition which is only obtained by study and experience.

Bob Horner

January 21st, 2010
9:15 am

PrewDawg: It’s because our only weapons at receiver are Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez. Michael Jenkins had 50 catches and 1 touchdown. He should be cut from the team, and we should go after Anquan Bolden. Matt Ryan was in “look for the TE first” mode all season, but if we had two solid WRs, it could get interesting.

Penelope

January 21st, 2010
9:19 am

Finally a man of accountability. Falcons have always hired go lucky along for the ride excuse guys. We’re still paying for the amatuer mistakes of Rich McKay and Jim Mora Jr.. Finally there’s a strong voice in the front office that will create success by design versus by accident. The latter is how the Falcons did it for 43 years and it simply didn’t work. I hope Arthur keeps his size 13 shoe ready for anyone looking for the easy way out. That’s the only way this town gets an NFL title.

Falconz fan

January 21st, 2010
9:20 am

Jack, please do not lump all Atlanta fans together. Many of the people living in Atlanta are transients and stay loyal to the teams where they came from. I am from here, have lived here all of my life and take offense to your comments. True Georgians are loyal to the home teams. That’s all I got to say about that…

collegeballfan

January 21st, 2010
9:22 am

So far the braintrust of Dimitroff and Smith have done a really solid job. I would expect the same in 2010.

Lamar Maddox

January 21st, 2010
9:24 am

The Falcons missed Harry Douglas, and need to add another WR in case of injury. Because of no HD, then main package went from 3 WRs to 2 TEs or normal 2 WRs. HD was the quick slot receiver that opened up the middle. We need to draft another HD type this year, just in case of injury. When we have HD, Roddy, Tony, and Jenkins you now have 4 threats for a defense to defend. I think this is why our offense changed from last year to this year. We had two slower receiver playing the slot, Booker and Finneran. We started seeing Weems in the slot more at the end of the season, to add more quickness to the offense.

K Rack

January 21st, 2010
9:27 am

Coach Smith and GM Dimitroff know the CB’s are developing and they know they are undersized, which is why getting guys to put pressure on the QB will be their main priorities. Our CB’s are very athletic, which does help them compensate. Getting a nice rush from the edge, combined with a healthy Jerry in the middle, means major improvements in overall pass defense.

TheManMike

January 21st, 2010
9:29 am

TD is the man. He has changed football for our city – wait a few years and see what happens….damn exciting. Excited to see what he has up his sleeves as far as FA goes – after TG came here, I wonder how many more stars wouldn’t mind coming to ATL.

POO SCAT!!!!!

Sonny Clusters

January 21st, 2010
9:31 am

“Sniffing the pits” brings back unpleasant memories of Stinky Wintes. Once, we was at Dairy Queen and they asked him to sit outside at the picnic table.

suwaneedawg

January 21st, 2010
9:32 am

You don’t have solid DB’s in the NFL with out a solid pass rush. Look at the four teams remaining and they all have one thing in common, a solid defensive front. I agree Grimes and Owens are short but, if you get a pass rush and they are in position they will make plays more often then not.