Football / Sports

Falcons looking for 'rugged' and 'gritty' linemen

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Atlanta Falcons don't plan to open the doors at Flowery Branch, Ga., to any "thug" players.

After the team slipped to 4-12 after reaching the NFC Championship game the previous season, team officials are at the NFL scouting combine looking for a few good men to improve their offensive and defensive lines.

"There is an element of ruggedness that we know we need to ramp up to get it back to the next level and take it to another level," Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said Friday. "I want to be very clear about that. I've been semantically responsible about making sure that I don't say 'thug' and I say rugged. That's very important for us."

Dimitroff didn't want to leave any question that the Falcons still value character in light of the Wells report, which chronicled the Miami Dolphins' dysfunctional and explosive locker room.

"We understand that with today's environment, it's up to us as leaders in this business in the National Football League to be responsible with the type of people that we take," Dimitroff said. "Sometimes we are going to have mishaps and challenges. We're all human, and we understand that. But it's up to us to make sure that we get the right type of people." The Falcons have started to assess some of the key players in the draft and have had three informal meetings with Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson, who bench-pressed 225 pounds 32 times. Robinson said that if he hadn't started out so fast he could have reached 40 lifts.

Robinson, a third-year sophomore who had 130 pancake blocks last season, is considered the most talented tackle in the draft.

"When run blocking, you can be really as aggressive as you want," Robinson said. "You want to get a good piece of your body on the defender. When I come off a run-blocking (assignment), my main focus is just to get myself in a position to block and then just use my lower-body strength to make the best out of the block." Texas A&M's Jake Matthews and Michigan's Taylor Lewan are considered more refined at blocking pass rushers.

"I will work on hand placement and techniques," Robinson said. "Those are things I can learn from people." The Falcons, who have the sixth pick in the draft, are getting to know Robinson and will learn as much as they can about the other tackles and key defenders in the draft, such as South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack and UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr.

The Falcons own all of their seven draft picks, and Dimitroff said he expects the team will receive two to three compensatory picks.

The team, which has not made any offers to its prospective free agents, has put any possible contract extensions on the back burner for now.

"Our focus is to continue to look at what we have on our team and the players who are obviously going to be free agents this year and see how we can put the team together," Dimitroff said. "... We are trying to figure out where we are going before we dig into restructuring, renegotiating or adding on to contracts."

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