- Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer
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Although some off-the-field concerns follow offensive lineman Taylor Lewan into this week's NFL draft, his college coach stands behind his character.
Lewan is one of three tackles the Atlanta Falcons could strongly consider with the sixth overall pick in Thursday's draft. But the former University of Michigan standout is facing misdemeanor assault charges stemming from a fight outside an Ann Arbor, Michigan, restaurant in December.
Wolverines coach Brady Hoke had no problem speaking on Lewan's behalf.
"The only thing I know off the field is the incident where he allegedly punched a guy after the Ohio State game, and it hasn't been proven that he's done that,'' Hoke told ESPN.com. "For me, he's never had an issue. Until the truth comes out, I think people are always going to assume.
"Look, I've been doing this long enough: People are going to have an opinion. Sportswriters are going to have an opinion and have a story written beforehand. So, don't worry about that. Worry about being the kind of person you need to be. With Taylor, his visits up to [C.S.] Mott Children's Hospital and the things that he's done in this community probably don't get publicized as much. It's always the negatives that might be out there or the allegedly that's out there.''
During the NFL combine in February, Lewan stood at the podium and denied his involvement in the incident. His arraignment has been pushed back until after the draft.
"I went over the Ohio State incident once before: I wasn't in any fight of any kind,'' Lewan said at the combine. "I was actually breaking something up and some guy said that I slugged him, but that's not who I am off the field. That's not the kind of person I am.''
Lewan also denied involvement in the alleged rape case against former Michigan teammate Brandon Gibbons from 2009, during which the victim's friends accused Lewan of threatening her. Gibbons was removed from the university.
Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff was asked last week about Lewan and other players who might have some red flags and his approach to such circumstances.
"We're very particular about making sure that we monitor and evaluate any of the issues that any players have, whether it's character, whether it's, obviously, injuries issues and such,'' Dimitroff said. "That's something that we feel we do a very detailed job. And we're very in-depth about how we approach it. And we're very serious about it. Of course, there are always concerns about anyone, but we understand that everyone's growing and we're all human and we're going to have our challenges and our slip-ups.''
Asked if Lewan would be taken off the draft board due to those issues, Dimitroff responded, "Absolutely not.''
The Falcons appear destined to target an offensive tackle at No. 6 despite rumors of them wanting to trade up for a coveted pass-rusher such as Jadeveon Clowney or Khalil Mack. The consensus top three tackles are Auburn's Greg Robinson, Texas A&M's Jake Matthews and Lewan. Based on projections, at least one of them should be available at No. 6, if not two.
Hoke believes Lewan would have been the No. 1 overall pick last year had he not decided to return to school for a fifth year. The coach admired how Lewan mentored the young offensive linemen this past season in a leadership role.
"He’s an awfully special young man to me," Hoke said. "I’m very proud of him. He has continued to grow, in my opinion, every day."