Earlier this week, Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff joined AtlantaFalcons.com’s Jay Adams and Morgan Andrew in a live Google Hangout from the Senior Bowl. Dimitroff fielded questions from fans via Twitter and Facebook and he was open and candid about his thoughts on the 2013 season and the kind of changes ahead for the Falcons in 2014. While I recommend watching it for yourself, here are five things you need to know from Dimitroff’s Hangout.
1) Rugged Falcons: The grit of the Falcons is what Dimitroff is looking to reinforce during this offseason. He points to the hiring of two new coaches, Bryan Cox and Mike Tice, as part of the plan to give the Falcons a consistent toughness in the trenches. The reports from the Senior Bowl reinforce Dimitroff’s idea that Cox and Tice fit the rugged and gritty description and the general manager is encouraged by what he’s seen of their approach so far. The addition of that mentality won’t end with the coaching staff, Dimitroff said: ”One of our main focuses will be to truly add that element of ruggedness to this football team. We feel we have some very rugged football players and we feel we have some adjustments, no question about that, across the organization.”
2) 2013 Rookies: Dimitroff thinks the experience this year’s rookies received will be valuable moving forward, but two rookies in particular stood out to him. Last year’s first-round pick Desmond Trufant took all the lessons he learned facing Julio Jones and Roddy White during training camp into the regular season. Dimitroff saw a player who had been pushed to the limits early on in camp and never backed down from any matchup during the season. Trufant showed his GM the speed, consistency and swagger that he knew he was drafting.
As a college free agent, linebacker Paul Worrilow arrived to the Falcons in a much different way than Trufant, but showed the path to the NFL doesn’t matter. The rookie led the team in tackles and impressed Dimitroff with his football acumen, reinforced by some feedback on Worrilow that defensive coordinator Mike Nolan provided: ”Mike Nolan has gone as far as saying he’s been one of the smartest football players, and most football-instinctive players, that he’s been around, short of guys like Ray Lewis and some of the special defenders he’s been around.”
3) Protecting No. 2: In 2013, only nine teams allowed more sacks than the Falcons. It’s obvious 44 sacks is too many and Dimitroff made it clear that protecting franchise quarterback Matt Ryan is central to the success of the team. Dimitroff addressed the up-and-down seasons of Lamar Holmes and Peter Konz and expressed confidence that both can be viable options for the Falcons moving forward. Ultimately, Dimitroff said the Falcons know they can only go as far as their quarterback can take them. They believe they have a good one in Ryan, but the 2013 sack totals can’t become the norm: ”We’re looking to really fortify that pocket and be able to create the pocket so that Matt has the ability to move around. Any adept and functioning quarterback in the National Football League has to be able to move around.”
4) Bones Heal: The fortunate thing about many of the injuries the Falcons had this year is they weren’t catastrophic. Dimitroff shared that all of last year’s injured players are healing on schedule, including one star wide receiver everyone’s looking forward to seeing again. The GM said Julio Jones will be healthy and ready to go for next season.
5) What They’re Looking For: The offseason is all about trying to figure out what your team will do in the draft. While Dimitroff isn’t foolish enough to unveil his entire draft plan to the internet, he did share some ideas about what he’s looking for at specific positions. In response to a question about the traits he looks for in linemen on both sides of the ball, Dimitroff was open about aspects of the type of player he’s looking for.
- Defensive tackle: Dimitroff said he wants DTs with girth and capable of preventing chaos on the interior of the line. With that size comes a toughness and resiliency to stay strong in the middle despite repeated contact: ”Those kinds of guys inside from a defensive line standpoint, usually they have that gritty, that rugged element in them. We need to continue to get that.”
- Defensive end: On the edge, Dimitroff is looking for the disruptive forces that frequently find the backfield through athleticism and size or quickness and creativity. Dimitroff said those are the special guys you want on the outside and they’re hard to find: ”Those guys don’t come along that often, the really special ones. That’s something we’re always going to be looking for and every team in the NFL is looking to have, quite honestly not only one, but two.”
- O-line: For the interior, Dimitroff referred back to fortifying the interior pocket with tough, instinctive players. At tackle, they’re looking for linemen that can protect the edge and face off against fierce pass rushers and hold their own: “They’re able to not panic and able to hang tough. And honestly, get beat and the next play, come right back like a cornerback, like a quarterback. They’re going to have to forget and have a short memory and that’s something I think our offensive linemen are continuing to learn.”