12/16/2018 -- Atlanta, Georgia -- Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank leaves the field following a game against the Arizona Cardinals at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Sunday, December 16, 2018. The Atlanta Falcons beat the Arizona Cardinals, 40-14. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
Photo: Alyssa Pointer
Photo: Alyssa Pointer

Blank counting on co-team builders to lead a turnaround 

Fixing the offensive line is No. 1 priority 

After the messy ending to last season, Falcons coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff started forging onward into the 2019 campaign.

Quinn got back in the office Jan. 29, the Tuesday before the Super Bowl, and they started the evaluation of the roster that resulted in the release of cornerback Robert Alford, kicker Matt Bryant and defensive end Brooks Reed last week, which created an additional $15.2 in salary-cap space. 

“Still they are, that’s accurate,” Falcons owner Arthur Blank told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution when asked if Dimitroff and Quinn were still co-team builders. “But you judge a coach and general manager not in the same parameters. There are different disciplines that they are responsible for. One could be successful and one not.”

Much was made of Dimitroff and Quinn going into a “must-win” season after going 7-9 and firing all of the coordinators. Blank said that the two parties were not necessarily linked together. 

“An example would be when we made a move with coach (Mike) Smith and we kept Thomas,” Blank said of Smith’s dismissal after the 2014 season. “It was just because we felt we needed to make a coaching change with great respect and fondness for everything that Mike Smith did for us, five winning seasons in a row, multiple playoffs, but we felt after a couple of very disappointing seasons, we felt we had to have a change in that area. 

“We didn’t think it was necessary in terms of our general manager.”

After Smith followed a 6-10 season with a 4-12 stinker, the coach with the most wins in team history was dismissed.  

The decision to move on from Alford, Bryant and Reed were the easy ones. 

The major offseason program will be rebuilding the offensive line. The rebuild of an offensive line was a factor in Smith’s dismissal. 

If the scouting department whiffs again, it likely would be trouble for Quinn. 

“Can he? Yes, he can?” Blank said when asked if Dimitroff could fix the offensive line. “Most importantly, the coach and Thomas believe that’s probably our No. 1 priority.”

The Falcons know that quarterback Matt Ryan is most effective when he can step up into the interior of the pocket. The Falcons started six different guards last season, and the interior of the pocket was not firm. 

“Matt plays much better when he’s vertical as opposed to horizontal,” Blank said. “The running game is an important part of the passing game in the total offense. If we depend on one versus the other you are not going to get a successful outcome.”

The Falcons are counting on new/returning offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter to re-establishing the rushing attack. 

Koetter was the Falcons’ offensive coordinator under Smith from 2012-14. He helped the Falcons reach the NFC title game after the 2012 season. 

“The advantage of bringing back Dirk Koetter is that he had good balance when he was with the Falcons,” Blank said. “In Tampa he had a great balance as well. He respects the running game really deeply.”

The Falcons felt they lost their way on offense under offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian the past two seasons after going to the Super Bowl under Kyle Shanahan.

“So, coach Quinn feels strongly that he wants to get back to that brand of football, as well,” Blank said. “It doesn’t mean that Matt won’t be throwing for 5,000 yards again. It does mean that we’ll have more balance. So, we have the personnel to do that, but we need some help on the offensive line.”

Dimitroff, in a radio-row interview during Super Bowl week, stated that the Falcons will not spend “boldly” in free agency. 

“We will be very manageable and mindful about how we are going to be approaching free agency,” Dimitroff said. “We are not just going to throw money at it for the sake of it.”

So the offensive-line help will have to come from low-budget free agents, the draft or from players on the roster. 

The Falcons coaches have told Blank they are not switching to a power-run scheme, thus they’ll still look for smaller, quicker linemen who fit the cut-blocking system. 

“It’s a combination of outside and inside zone,” Blank said. “It’s going to be a zone scheme, but it’s going to be a combination.” 

So, the Falcons have started the push toward improving their roster. Dimitroff has said he new contracts for defensive tackle Grady Jarrett and wide receiver Julio Jones. 

The Falcons likely will make a few more moves before the team heads to the scouting combine, which is set for Feb. 26-March 4 in Indianapolis. 

Blank wanted to be clear about the team structure moving forward. 

“The coach has final say on the roster and what have you,” Blank said. “That was clear when we hired Dan four years ago. It’s his fifth season now. 

“I think he and Thomas have a very much shared vision for the club. They make decisions collaboratively. That doesn’t mean they always agree. They respectfully disagree.”

Blank likes that they listen to each other.

“Sometimes, Dan will talk Thomas into something and vice versa,” Blank said. “So, we understand that ... in most cases I would say if there is really strong disagreement from one or the other, they would tend to move on and try to find a different solution that they have a common feeling about.”

After missing the playoffs and watching the Rams flail against the Patriots in the Super Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the Falcons’ owner wants a quick reboot to contender status. Dimitroff and Quinn will be charged with leading the way. 

“They have that much respect for each other,” Blank said. “They are connected at the hip only in terms of their charge to make the team better and roster better and our team to perform better. But beyond that, they are not connected. They have different jobs and different responsibilities. They are not a twin by any means.”

Now, folks can turn their attention back to the roster. 

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