The Falcons addressed more roster needs in the later rounds of the 2016 NFL Draft, and coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff shared their perspectives on these new additions with the Atlanta media.
Linebacker in general has been a weakness for the Falcons. They needed more speed and atheticism at the position, and they got it in De'Vondre Campbell out of Minnesota, their fourth-round selection. It's probably not going to surprise you that both Dimitroff and Quinn felt that Campbell would make the Falcons' defense faster and more physical.
"First player today, De'Vondre Campbell from Minnesota, from a gathering of information standpoint and what we were looking for with another linebacker, more speed, he checks all the boxes, height, weight and speed," Dimitroff said. "He's a productive guy. He has the ability to run with the tight ends and running backs, as well. He's a very productive football player, and we're looking for him to continue to develop with Dan and his staff and with Jeff Ulbrich. Again, we're excited to see him where we saw him in the fourth round."
For Quinn, it was also about the length, a trait he covets in defensive players.
"It's the length, it's the speed, and that part of it we certainly saw the match ups, playing on tight ends and running backs to cover," Quinn said. "Important guy to add to the D. He can certainly fill a number of roles in terms of coverage. He's also a very good blitzer with that kind of length and speed. We're thrilled that he's part of the group."
Campbell said Falcons linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich talked to him mostly about playing the WILL, but he's got experience playing inside and outside. In these weeks leading up to the draft, he's spent time working with Chuck Smith to develop as a pass rusher.
"I think I have a lot of room for improvement in terms of pass rush. Pass rush is not something that is natural. It's something that you have to work on. It's a skill and it has to be taught," Campbell said. "This whole offseason I was training with Chuck Smith, who's actually an Atlanta native, down in Orlando working on my pass rush. It's something that I feel like I can take the next step in my game to help me become an even better player because I focus on having no weaknesses and that was one of the things that I knew I needed to work on because I have the skill set to be a dominant pass rusher, so I was training with Chuck Smith for about two or two-and-a-half months before and after the draft just working on my pass rush trying to develop that part of my game."
Interior line play for the Falcons last season left a lot to be desired, and while the Falcons did address that with the addition of center Alex Mack in free agency, guard Chris Chester is aging and has some lingering injury issues from last season. With the sixth-round pick they grabbed from Houston when they traded back to 52 to take Deion Jones, they selected Wes Schweitzer out of San Diego State University.
Schweitzer is a former wrestler, and he believes the toughness developed from that sport made him more appealing ot the Falcons.
"The biggest thing that they liked was my toughness, which kind of correlates back to that wrestling in high school," Schweitzer said. "They just said that my smarts, my athletic ability, my work ethic, and my toughness are going to translate well to playing guard and center."
Dimitroff confirmed that the toughness was part of the appeal with Schweitzer, as well as his versatility.
"... Again, he's another guy with the makeup. He's an athletic guy. He has wrestling in his background. We've talked about that before as far as the importance of leverage and being able to move around with his wrestling background," Dimitroff said. "We think he continues to have upside. He has the versatility to play tackle as well as inside. Again, excited to have him on board because we think he has got some serious development side to him."
Atlanta has a higher degree of familiarity with Schweitzer because his former college position coach, Keith Carter, is now an assistant with the Falcons.
"He played left tackle at San Jose. We're going to play him as an inside guy here," Quinn said. "We think he has the versatility, and he could kick out to play tackle, but inside, this is an extremely tough competitor. Keith Carter, who's also on the staff, coached him for years at San Jose. We had a chance to be out there, work him out, and another guy that we're thrilled to bring in the mix."
The Falcons selected Devin Fuller, a speedy wideout with potential as a return specialist, in the seventh round. Fuller saidthat when he's returning, his objective is always to score.
"Well, first off, as a returner you don't try to get the ball back to the offense, which is key, but after you get the ball in your hands there's plenty of time so I feel like scoring is the number one objective," Fuller said. "You've got to help the others because special teams is our left field position. Helping out the team any way you can, but if I'm lucky enough to be back there I'm trying to score every time I have the ball in my hands. That's just the mentality I have."
Dimitroff said that Fuller's versatility was a factor in the decision to draft him. He also said that the team is not at all concerned about injury issues with Fuller based on their own medical staff's assessment. Fuller will need some development, as any rookie, and particularly a seventh rounder, does at the next level.
"He's a guy that overriding theme, versatility, has the ability to catch the ball and run routes as a receiver," Dimitroff said. "He also has in our minds some budding ability to be a return specialist, and we're going to be working on that, as well. Again, to get him in the seventh round, though not overly productive this year, he had more production last year, we're looking for him to continue to develop."
Quinn felt the same way.
"A former high school QB, terrific ball skills, has both played inside in the slot and then outside along with the return ability," Quinn said. "[We're] so thrilled to put him in the mix, both as a receiver and as a returner."
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