Thomas Dimitroff is at his 26th NFL Scouting Combine, first attending as a high schooler with his father, Tom Dimitroff, Sr., and then as a scout and administrator with the New England Patriots.
Now a 48-year-old, six-year veteran general manager of the Atlanta Falcons, he restructured the front office around him in January to reshape the direction of the franchise.
"Obviously 4-12 was a challenging season, disappointing season for us," Dimitroff said. "Now the real fun begins."
The Falcons are relatively young in scouting from top to bottom, and Dimitroff said he has a sound staff of researchers who are budding evaluators.
"We focused on our personnel department with what we needed to adjust," Dimitroff said. "We needed some teeth, we needed some experience on the personnel side."
Atlanta added Scott Pioli, an elite-type evaluator in Dimitroff's words, as assistant general manager. Pioli and the pro scouting department is projecting what could take place in free agency and setting Atlanta's "needs board."
"He's going to be a very important seat at the table," Dimitroff said of Pioli.
A chief priority is continuing to build blocking protection around "No. 2," quarterback Matt Ryan. That could be solved in free agency, but Dimitroff is at another combine with his eye on prospect targets with the No. 6 overall pick. Or, he says with a coy smile, a higher pick.
The Falcons moved up in a trade with the Cleveland Browns in 2011 to draft Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones. Dimitroff orchestrated the trade to climb 21 spots to get the player the franchise identified as a must-have.
"I always want to have the light on for business," Dimitroff said. "When you ever are able to cultivate trades, it's about being able to be honest with people. Moving up from the late 20s into six, that was difficult. I thought that was going to be a multi-tier trade to be honest with you. ... Honestly in the top 10 it's a little easier to move around now."
It was at the Scouting Combine where Jones cemented his status as a top-10 prospect, running a blazing 4.39 40-yard dash with a broken bone in his foot.
Could a repeat be in the offing with South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney or offensive tackle Greg Robinson (Auburn) -- two freakish athletes with the ability to start, and possibly star, at positions of great need for the Falcons?
"By draft time we'll have myriad contingencies and scenarios," Dimitroff said. "We throw out some really interesting scenarios, sometimes throwing out moving up in an unprecedented way. ... In my mind it's an outstanding top-10 draft. That's exciting for us. Rarely are you a team with a marquee, and franchise-type quarterback picking at six or earlier."
--The Falcons have added two former general managers and a former personnel director this offseason in Scott Pioli, Billy Devaney and Russ Bollinger.
"We thought good and strong about the entire organization as we mentioned from a coaching standpoint," Dimitroff said. "We really focused recently on where we were with our personnel department and where we needed to adjust. We really believe that with a young group of personnel people, who are really good researchers and budding evaluators, that we needed some experience on the personnel side.
"Billy has an unbelievable amount of experience as a GM, as a scout and as an administrator," Dimitroff said. "He'll be working on the scouting side as a regional scout. Then Russ Bolinger who has been a longtime scout, personnel man, director of pro scouting for the Lions at one time. He played in the league. He adds a lot of experience to that staff. I think our young staff will benefit greatly."
--The Falcons have been upfront about their search to improve their offensive and defensive lines. They want to run the ball better and stop the run.
"We're very mindful about what we need," Dimitroff said. "We've talked about it. We've been open about it. Whether if its bolstering both fronts that we're going to be focused on. I think everyone needs to understand, and most of you who follow this game, understands, you just don't have an o-line and d-line scouts and receivers scouts. Everyone rolls up their sleeves and is involved in every aspect of evaluating."
--The Falcons want the league to know they are open for trading business and could be looking to move up in the draft.
"I've said that from Day One, since 2008 that I always want to have the light on for business," Dimitroff said. "I never want to be one of those teams that (when) people pick up the phone and they quickly throw the phone back down and hesitate to reach out; thinking that we're not going to be straight up.
"I think that's the biggest thing. When you are ever able to cultivate trades it's about being honest with people in your dealings and I think that we've done a nice job of that and we're always going to be open for business."
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--The Falcons promoted Mark Collins to outside linebackers coach and hired Andrew Thacker as a defensive assistant.
"We are pleased to promote Mark to outside linebacker coach," coach Mike Smith said in a statement. "He has proved to be a valuable part of our coaching staff the last four seasons and we are confident that he will continue to help develop our outside linebackers.
"Andrew is a young coach who has experience in major college football and we feel he will be an asset to our staff."
Collins has served as a defensive assistant and worked with the defensive line for the past four seasons. Thacker spent last season as the safeties coach at Southern Mississippi. Prior joining the Golden Eagles, he spent three seasons as a defensive graduate assistant at Oklahoma State. Thacker spent two seasons in the same role at Central Florida after playing safety for four years at Furman University.
--The Falcons signed offensive lineman Mike Johnson to a one-year contract. He was scheduled to be a restricted free agent.
Johnson appeared to be on track to be the starting right tackle last season, but at training camp he fractured his fibula and dislocated his left ankle. Johnson missed the entire 2013 season.
Johnson (6-foot-6, 304 pounds) was selected by the Falcons in the third round of the 2010 NFL Draft out of Alabama. He has played in 18 games with one start during his four seasons in Atlanta.
Johnson saw his most extensive action in 2012, playing in all 16 games with one start.
--Falcons running back Jason Snelling joined former teammate Tony Gonzalez in retirement on Tuesday (March 4).
The 30-year-old Snelling announced his intentions in a statement released by the team.
"I have decided to retire after seven years in the NFL to spend time with my family," Snelling said. "I want to thank (team owner) Mr. (Arthur) Blank, (general manager) Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Mike Smith for providing me the opportunity to play for the Atlanta Falcons.
"The Falcons are a first-class organization run by a first-class owner and I am grateful that I got to spend my entire career in Atlanta."
In seven seasons and 96 regular-season games with the Falcons, Snelling rushed for 1,420 yards and eight touchdowns on 363 carries and added 168 receptions for 1,249 yards and nine touchdown catches. A seventh-round pick in the 2007 NFL Draft, Snelling had his best season in 2009 when he made two starts and ran for 613 yards and four touchdowns on 142 carries.
In his final season, Snelling rushed for 164 yards and one touchdown on 44 carries.
"Jason was a good teammate and a joy to coach," Smith said. "He played a number of roles for our team during his time here and was always ready when his number was called."
--The Falcons re-signed defensive tackle Corey Peters to a one-year contract, the team announced Tuesday (March 4).
In 2013, the 25-year-old Peters started all 15 games in which he played while tallying 48 tackles (35 solo) with a career-high five sacks and two passes defensed.
Peters suffered a season-ending Achilles' injury in a Week 16 loss at San Francisco on Dec. 23, but he is expected to be ready for training camp.
Peters (6-foot-3, 310 pounds) was selected by the Falcons in the third round in the 2010 NFL Draft out of Kentucky. He has played in 56 career games, including 53 starts in four seasons in Atlanta. Peters has recorded 140 tackles, nine sacks, one interception, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and five passes defensed in his career.
Peters is in a walking boot recovering from a torn Achilles tendon that ended his 2013 season. He said "there's no reason to believe that I won't be ready to go for the start of the season."
Peters also addressed comments from owner Arthur Blank that the team has to play tougher than they did in 2012.
"I can't speak for anyone else but for me, and I'd say that's a fair criticism," Peters said. "When teams are having success running the ball like they had last year against us, I do take it personal. There's a few things that we need to do better, and being tougher is one of them."
Scheduled to be unrestricted Tuesday
--DL Jonathan Babineaux
--TE Chase Coffman
--CB Dominique Franks
--LB Omar Gaither
--C/G Joe Hawley
--DT Peria Jerry
--T Sean Locklear
--DT Corey Peters
--T Jeremy Trueblood
OFFENSIVE LINE: The Falcons were not able to protect the quarterback and were not able to run the football. They had the most imbalanced offense in the league.
DEFENSIVE LINE: The defensive front wasn't much help in stopping the run and did not rush the passer much, either.
FREE SAFETY: Free safety Thomas DeCoud continued to take poor angles and miss tackles. He has the range, but didn't make plays on the ball in 2013.
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