The Falcons’ top draftee is about as New England as a scrod-dinner fundraiser at the Old North Church.
Don’t let the fact that Chris Lindstrom doesn’t talk like an extra in “The Departed” fool you. (Somehow, miraculously, his r’s come out perfectly formed. “I don’t know, I guess I got left behind in that aspect,” he said.) He played at Boston College. His uncle played there, too. His dad manned the line at Boston U. He’s from Dudley, Mass., 60 miles from Boston and even closer to Foxborough, home to a certain serial Super Bowl champion and breaker of Falcons hearts.
But as Lindstrom has begun work on his zone blocking techniques here in the pre-training training part of the bottomless NFL calendar, he also has done some very impressive pruning of his roots.
If he was suffering from the Boston Bruins’ Game 7 Stanley Cup loss Wednesday, Lindstrom betrayed none of it. It has been now, what, four months since a Boston team has won a championship. Surely, he was suffering some painful withdrawal, or required a day off from the Falcons to deal with his feelings. “No,” he said, “it was a great series. It was fun to watch those guys compete. Such an intense moment.”
And, if Lindstrom ever owned a closet full of New England Patriots products, and cackled and celebrated during the comeback against the Falcons in Super Bowl LI – which was his birthright – he’s not saying now.
By the close of minicamp this week, after the Falcons had gotten to know their 14th overall pick a little bit, first impressions tilted toward just how nimble he was, both of foot and mind.
Said his coach, Dan Quinn: “He’s probably picked it up faster than I thought, learning-wise, assignment-wise, technique-wise. He’s off to a good start.
“I knew the quickness was there, you kind of could see that early. But how fast could you learn it and get acclimated? That part, he’s exceeded where I thought he’d be.”
Said his quarterback, Matt Ryan, the man he was brought in here to protect like the Hope Diamond with ears: “He’s very athletic. This time of the year, you don’t get to see all they can do in terms of the physical nature of it, in terms of contact. To watch him move, to see how comfortable he is in his pass sets, where his hand placement is, those are all things that give you a chance to play well. He does all those little things really well.”
But if you really want to see some fancy footwork, ask him what the numbers 28-3 mean to him.
“Nothing, really,” he said.
They are a most infamous set of numbers, numbers scratched into the bathroom stall of Falcons history, representing the blown lead to the Patriots in the 2017 Super Bowl. But, then, you knew that.
Even more impressive was the way Lindstrom locked on and held at arm’s length the question about his reaction to Feb. 5, 2017, the worst moment ever for his current employer.
He put it most diplomatically: “I was just a fan of football really. It was same thing as watching hockey, basketball, just watching guys compete. It didn’t go, the F . . . our way (almost saying Falcons, before making a canny correction).”
“But it was exciting.”
More than his ability to compartmentalize old allegiances, the Falcons went for Lindstrom for the way he shields off ill-intentioned defenders. He was the first of a pair of first-round draft picks the team devoted to offensive linemen in the hope of getting Ryan to his 35th birthday without need of a gurney.
Football, and line play, may have been in his genes – see his 6-foot-7 dad and his uncle – but his body was a little slow to get the message. Throughout high school in Massachusetts, Lindstrom was the runt of the line, never getting above 235 pounds, relying upon his agility to compensate for bulk.
So atypical was his lineman’s build that he even put it to use in a most uncommon arena – the tennis court.
Playing doubles on the high school tennis team, Lindstrom described his job as being mostly to stand at net and blast volleys back toward a cringing opponent. “I could serve hard, but it only went in about one in every 10,” he said. “My partner was center-power forward on basketball team, and he had a little more finesse.”
Better, it seems, to come along as an athletic lineman in need of filling out than as a sloppy load needing to get in shape.
“I went to college and put on so much good, healthy weight (more than 60 pounds before he was done). I was used to being lighter and faster. Every time I put on weight and got stronger, I tried to maintain or get even faster. The bigger I got, that stayed with me.”
What emerged was a player whose stock kept rising every time he worked out in advance of the draft. The quickness he displayed while going hand-to-hand with, say, Clemson’s fearsome defensive line translated well to when he changed into shorts and ran the 40-yard dash for scouts (4.91 seconds, second fastest among lineman at the NFL Combine).
And the mental acuity he demonstrated through to the close of minicamp Thursday has encouraged a team that needs him to acclimate quickly to the highest league. The Falcons did not devote first-round picks to him and Washington tackle Kaleb McGary to bring them along slowly. They are not raising bonsai trees here, they are trying to raise a football team capable of doing something big before Ryan and Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman all start drawing their pension.
Suddenly there’s a greatly raised consciousness around here about offensive-line play. People are really starting to appreciate the boiler room of this luxury liner of an offense.
For his part, when Lindstrom is asked how goes his introduction to NFL life in general, and the Falcons way specifically, he speaks like this is exactly where he belongs.
And he’s already invoking his coach’s chosen collective for this franchise.
“It’s been awesome. I love every day coming to work, being a Falcon. That’s the best part of everything. The older guys are so receptive to us. The team environment is amazing, and being a part of the brotherhood is really exciting,” he said.
The transformation of one New Englander is ahead of schedule.
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