Drew Dalman is no stranger to the Falcons’ practice facility in Flowery Branch.
As a child, Dalman ran around the football fields while his father, Chris Dalman, worked as a Falcons assistant offensive line coach during the 2005 and 2006 seasons. The younger Dalman remembers quarterback Michael Vick being the “big man on campus” and becoming a fan of the team his father helped coach.
Fifteen years later, Dalman will head back to the Falcons as the franchise’s 114th overall selection in the fourth round of the NFL draft.
“I want to say it was first through third grade. I definitely remember running around those fields, causing a little mischief,” Dalman said. “I mean, great memories of being around the facility and being around the team.”
Before becoming a coach, Dalman’s father spent seven seasons with the San Francisco 49ers from 1993-99 after a standout collegiate career at Stanford. Dalman knew he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps as a professional football player at a young age. Like his dad, Dalman also attended Stanford as a three-star prospect and became a three-year starter.
Their individual stories to this point have a parallel, too. Chris wasn’t taken until the sixth round of the 1993 draft. Like his son, Chris was considered an undersized offensive lineman at 6-foot-3 and 287 pounds. Drew is 6-3 and 299 pounds with 32-inch arms, which isn’t the ideal length NFL executive and scouts traditionally look for.
The new Falcons center said he understands why he received questions on that subject during his team interviews in the pre-draft process. But Dalman is confident about his tape instead of certain measurables that often are nitpicked.
Having seen his father go through the same process has provided some reassurance.
“First and foremost I’ve been absolutely spoiled with an awesome teacher and a coach for most of my life,” Dalman said. “That’s been absolutely huge, building my confidence, building my skill set to be able to handle things like that. And just knowing there’s a guy who is a similar body to me that has done it. I have confidence in myself and who I’ve played against so far. I feel really good about what I’m going to do in the NFL.”
At Stanford, Dalman played some guard, making him a candidate to play multiple positions with the Falcons. However, it’s plausible that Dalman competes with Matt Hennessy, the Falcons’ third-round selection a year ago, for the starting center spot.
“With Drew, he was a very productive player at center,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. “We’ll have a healthy competition and the best player will play. The ones that don’t, they better have versatility if they want to have a helmet on game day.”
Whoever wins the job will replace Alex Mack, the Falcons’ starting center from 2016-20. That will be a tall order, considering the responsibilities Mack held, such as relaying the various run block calls and blitz pickups.
However, Dalman was responsible for this information at Stanford while operating in a zone-heavy pro-style scheme. This could make him a fit to be the heir apparent at the position.
“In the run game, I’m declaring the ‘Mike,’ which is setting the point where everyone is starting from on the offensive line,” Dalman said. “And then I was handling the pass protections so the quarterback has one less thing to worry about. He can just focus on the receivers, the coverage and things like that. He knew the offensive line would handle all the blitzers and everything.”
Although both Smith and general manager Terry Fontenot were thrilled with Dalman’s selection, offensive line coach Dwayne Ledford may have been the most excitement about the pick. When Ledford began his professional football career in 1999 with the 49ers, Chris Dalman showed him the ropes. All these years later, Ledford will now help his former teammate’s son make his NFL transition.
Fontenot said Ledford was more than ecstatic the moment Drew Dalman joined third-round pick Jalen Mayfield in this year’s draft class.
“We could hear Dwayne Ledford yelling and throwing his stuff all around the office every time we drafted an offensive lineman,” Fontenot said. “He’s pretty pumped.”
Smith noted Dalman’s background and pedigree, but emphasized that his body of work at Stanford was what put him on the Falcons’ radar.
Dalman hopes he can bring the Falcons some needed stability on the offensive line after the team ranked 27th in rushing and allowed quarterback Matt Ryan to be sacked 41 times in 2020.
Throughout his career to date, Dalman has enjoyed the benefit of having a former professional player and coach as a father to help him along the way.
Returning to his old football playground in Flowery Branch is certainly a bonus, too.
“(My father’s) a guy who, by example, has shown me how being prepared, how working hard, how taking the weight room seriously, (taking) practice seriously can lead to a successful career,” Dalman said. “Seeing that for me has been huge and molding my mindset for the game.”
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Credit: Ben Hendren for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution