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What we learned from Falcons’ Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff at the NFL Combine

It’s the offseason, and that’s the perfect time to read between the lines.

San Francisco 49ers v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The NFL Combine is over, and we’re on to the NFL Draft and free agency and all of the other fun that awaits as we look toward next season. But before we move on, let’s dig into what Falcons head coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff had to say during their media availability at the combine.

Quinn opened his comments with a story about a conversation with De’Vondre Campbell at the end of the 2018 season.

“It was his first time not being in the postseason kind of early in his NFL career,” Quinn said. “He said, ‘Man, this sucks.’ I said, ‘Yeah it does.’ He said, ‘We’re a better team than the team that was playing that particular day.” I said, “I have to stop you there. Not this year.”

Campbell agreed with him, because the Falcons just weren’t the better team on the field a whole lot of the time last year. So how does Quinn fix that?

“Like I said, how do you make the lessons matter, to me, it’s how to make sure we are more consistent,” Quinn said. “How do we make sure that those things we talked about as a standard, as a group, together, the leadership, how do we make those lessons matter? ... We’ve added some guys to what I think is an excellent staff. I’m looking forward to getting back with the guys. It’s not going to be for a while, but we’ll have a edgy team, certainly with some guys with things to prove and I certainly love that. We’re excited to be here the combine and excited to get started.”

Dimitroff does think that the addition of Dirk Koetter in particular will be a difference-maker.

“I think bringing back Dirk, I was really excited and had some really great conversations with Dan (Quinn), of course,” Dimitroff said. “Having been around him before and knowing who he was, again, acutely aware of offense. Very, very aware of how it’s a matchup league, which I know is incredibly important. I feel like Dirk will come into our organization and add an element of consistency, of focus, awareness. I think that’s a really important part of an organization that’s been building its offense for a while. We feel we have the players to continue to be more prolific every year and we think Dirk can help us with all his maturity in the league.”

Here’s what else Quinn and Dimitroff had to say at the combine.

On Tevin Coleman’s future

Both Quinn and Dimitroff, not surprisingly, were asked about Coleman and the future of the Falcons’ running back depth chart.

“Let me start by saying Tevin Coleman is a really good football player and he did some really good things for us this year,” Dimitroff said. “Of course, it’s never easy to sign someone like (Devonta Freeman) and have two running backs that are going to be in the market at a high level money-wise. Tevin’s going to do well, whether he is with us or whether he goes somewhere else. As far as Ito, as a third running back, what he did for us this year, again, I’m really excited with how he’s growing and evolving in that short time with us. He can catch the ball, run the ball. He’s got really good vision. He’s a very competitive football player.”

Quinn didn’t write off keeping Coleman in the fold, though I still think it’s unlikely.

“One of the thing that I really admire about Tev is his ability to have the explosive play. To have the speed to get on the edge,” Quinn said. “He’s another one out of the backfield that can make plays catching. He’s done an excellent job through his time here. This is one of those moments where football and business intersect. There are lot of scenarios that take place. It will take all the way through that to see if we have a chance to bring him back or not. We certainly have lots of respect for him for the way he competed. No more so than this year where, although it was a lost season for us, to see him demonstrate the leadership at the position where he was part of his normal tandem with (him) and Freeman. I thought he really handled that well.”

On the 2019 NFL Draft’s defensive linemen

This seems to be a perpetual need for the Falcons. This year is no different, and Ed Oliver is on the radar of a lot of teams, including Atlanta.

“I think it is, obviously, a good defensive line draft,” Dimitroff said. “I think it’s fun to watch that come about. We go in stages over the years where you see a good group of defensive linemen and then you see a dearth in the next year. This year it’s a strong year. Ed’s a guy who is very talented, of course. He’s athletic, can get up, disrupt, he can rush, he can also play the run. He’s going to have a lot of eyes on him, I’m sure, at a really attractive spot in the draft.”

Quinn has very simple standards for defensive linemen, and Oliver lives up to it.

“All guys who can get to the quarterback fit the Falcons mold,” Quinn said. “If you’re 250 pounds or 350 pounds. His quickness and first step, in my early part of the evaluation, has set him apart. Overall, what a good looking group of guys for us to get evaluating. I’ve been through a number of the offensive linemen and a number of the defensive linemen and some tight ends. Some corners. So far, I’ve been impressed with this group of guys. Ed is one of those that has certainly jumped out by his first-step quickness. Beating somebody to the punch as a pass rusher is almost half of the battle because they apply the mental pressure to get on somebody quickly. In our early evaluations he certainly appears to have some of those traits.”

Having Matt Ryan locked up long-term is an advantage

You can file this under, “Duh,” but plenty of fans don’t see eye to eye with Dimitroff on this one — primarily because it does put the team in a precarious cap situation.

“Obviously, it’s so important for us. It’s the bedrock of the organization as far as building off of a quarterback that’s important,” Dimitroff said. “Of course, when you’re paying $30 million a year to a quarterback, and we have a great deal of faith in what Matt can do, it also puts us in a spot where we have to be creative in how we navigate through signing new players. We have a high-paid group. We have a group that we think deserves it. We know we put ourselves on the line with putting those type of players on our roster. Whether it’s Matt, Julio (Jones), Jake Matthews, Devonta Freeman -- we have some expensive people we need to continue to look at and make sure they are producing, which we feel they are. And make sure we build around them strategically so we can continue to put together a team that we feel can be thriving in the NFL.

“Again, I know both Dan and I feel strongly about our roster and the opportunities to continue building around Matt Ryan. Going back when I first got this job in 2008, it was so important for us to have a quarterback in place as we know. There were some in the local media who were asking for us to go after a defensive tackle. In hindsight, of course, I think we figured it out. To have Matt here has been great for us. We’ll continue to grow and build around him.”

On the future of the Falcons’ offensive line

If they’re paying Matt Ryan that much, the Falcons especially need to protect him. The offensive line was a glaring weakness last season, and there’s work to be done to fix it in this draft.

Quinn got into the weeds about the challenges of evaluating draft-eligible offensive linemen.

“I would say what makes it difficult at times, in college they are playing against maybe another defensive lineman of similar size and strength,” Quinn said. “You’ll see that the people that are playing the NFL, there are some freaky, either fast, or strong or explosive people. You had better be able to match up with these guys from a strength and athletic ability standpoint. For those guys, it’s a small group that can handle that job.

“Who’s got the strength to match up against a 340-pound defensive tackle who is coming to knock your chin off? You better have enough strength to do that. You better have enough athleticism to go block the speed of some of these that we are going to see run this week. Having that balance of strength and athleticism at offensive line, I think that’s a real difficult task to see. From the college side you are comparing them against NFL players. Quite often the guy who is a really good college offensive or defensive lineman and has good technique, maybe he lacks either the length, arm length, bulk or size or athleticism to block certain players. That’s what makes it challenging. It’s a pretty good challenge to take on. At that position, there is some development that goes on along with it.”

Quinn had this to say about Ty Sambrailo, which may clue us in to some of the plans along the offensive line.

“We certainly think that Ty has starting ability. He was one of the bright spots,” Quinn said. “When you have that moment to get going, he took advantage of it. He actually started games at tackle and at guard for us. He started the last game of the year at guard and earlier at tackle. He provided us some flexibility. But we definitely see Ty as a starter and he has the ability to do that.”

On the development of Austin Hooper and Calvin Ridley

The Falcons are going to need production from both Hooper and Ridley next season to compete. Quinn thinks they’re up to the task.

“I think really for the past two years (Hooper’s) really improved. As we went into (2017), his second and his third year, the catches went way up,” Quinn said. “It’s always good to see when somebody gets rewarded for all of the work that they’ve put in. He’s somebody that kept getting better and better. There are number of different weapons for us. Hoop is a significant one in the pass game especially because of Julio (Jones), Mohamed (Sanu) and Cal (Ridley). He’s a significant part of that as well. He put the work in for sure. That kind of connection and chemistry with Matt (Ryan) is important. The two of them put a lot of work in together.”

Ridley’s rookie season was hopefully a glimpse of things to come. His college experience at Alabama and the talent around him in Atlanta have helped.

“I think coming in Calvin had excellent experience at Alabama from the system that they ran, he really had good experience through Nick (Saban) and their system there,” Quinn said. “Coming in he also had some excellent mentors here in Atlanta from Mohamed (Sanu) and Julio and often times as a player, what do you do that’s unrequired work…behind the scenes and he, Mohamed and Julio spent a lot of unrequired work. To have teammates that you can ask questions to, hey, don’t talk to me rookie. In Atlanta it is just the opposite. They want to take a guy in and help him develop. Usually, you make big jumps from Year 1 to Year 2. We usually try to shorten that in his case, his competitive style sets him apart. He wants to go for it. When you have that attitude and some player mentors like he did, all that recipe is there for good success and a quarterback who could be really direct here…Matt can be like a coach on the field, especially to a rookie.”

We’ll see what the team does in free agency and the draft, but until then, let’s discuss what Quinn and Dimitroff had to say. Sound off in the comments.