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Dimitroff explains why Falcons didn't panic at DT

9/24/2009



Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas

I just got off the phone with Atlanta general manager Thomas Dimitroff after doing an interview for a column that will run Friday. Gee, with the Falcons going to New England on Sunday, anybody think this one might be a look at how Dimitroff’s time with Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli could be playing a role in Atlanta being built into one of the league’s best young teams?

Anyway, we’ll get much more into that Friday. But I did take the opportunity at the end of the interview to ask Dimitroff about Atlanta’s situation at defensive tackle after first-round draft pick Peria Jerry went down Sunday with a season-ending knee injury.

“It’s very unfortunate,’’ Dimitroff said. “As you know, we had big expectations for Peria and he was off to a nice start. He was grasping the system and really coming along.’’

But Dimitroff said the Falcons are prepared to move on and he has high hopes for the rest of the defensive tackles, even if there aren’t many big names. The Falcons have Jonathan Babineaux, who I think might be the most underrated player in the NFC South, as their other starting defensive tackle and that’s a good starting point.

But I asked Dimitroff to run through the rest of the group and I respect his judgment because the guy is a top-notch personnel man and I can’t say I’ve seen him make a true mistake since taking over the Falcons.

Atlanta likely will move Thomas Johnson into the starting role. This guy was out of the league the last two years, but the Falcons believe they’ve got a diamond in the rough -- maybe even a couple of diamonds. We’ll start with Johnson: He was a part-time starter for Houston in 2006.

The Falcons took a shot on signing Johnson and he showed some of his old promise in training camp. He performed so well that the Falcons decided to make him their third tackle. Johnson rotated in quite a bit behind Jerry and Babineaux in the first two games and graded out very well. The Falcons think he can make the next step and develop into a solid starter.

But what does that do to the back end of the rotation? Well, remember this, the Falcons didn’t panic and go out and sign some washed-up veteran. That means they believe they’ve got some other young guys who can grow into bigger roles.

They have Trey Lewis, who is coming off two major knee injuries, but showed some promise as a rookie in 2007. They also elevated Vance Walker off their practice squad.

“We knew we had Thomas and Trey and we drafted Vance (in the seventh round) and like him,’’ Dimitroff said. “Trey is coming along well after his ACL injuries and we like what we have. We believe we have a strong, stout rotation. I’ll even go ahead and say that we believe that even with Peria’s injury, we are still further ahead on the defensive line than we were last year at this time.’’