How the soaring Falcons rebuilt on the fly

Falcons coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff celebrate a 36-20 victory over the Seahawks in a NFL football NFC divisional playoff game on Saturday, Jan. 14, 2017, in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton/

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

Falcons coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff celebrate a 36-20 victory over the Seahawks in a NFL football NFC divisional playoff game on Saturday, Jan. 14, 2017, in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton/

Of the 22 Falcons listed on the flip card as starters on offense and defense for the divisional-round game against Seattle, 12 — more than half — were acquired since Dan Quinn arrived. Not included among those dozen were Tevin Coleman, who led the Falcons in rushing against the Seahawks; Taylor Gabriel, who caught four passes; Justin Hardy, who caught two; Austin Hooper, who caught one, and Brian Poole, who was credited with four tackles.

Quinn was named head coach Feb. 2, 2015. He was also ceded control of the 53-man roster, which not every NFL coach has. In less than two years, the Falcons’ roster has been remade to fit the new man’s specifications. That roster stands one game from the Super Bowl.

As this correspondent makes his way along the list of Falcons employees about whom he expressed some measure of doubt — previous installments: Quinn, Kyle Shanahan, even Matt Ryan — another mea culpa must be directed toward the collective front office, which once seemed apt to collapse on itself from top-heaviness.

There were three former NFL general managers on the masthead, plus the still-incumbent GM Thomas Dimitroff, plus czar-of-football Quinn, plus builder-of-stadiums Rich McKay, plus the hands-on owner. Dimitroff survived the firing of Mike Smith, the coach with whom he once described himself as “simpatico.” He survived last year’s crash from 6-1 to 8-8. His role was recast before Quinn arrived, Dimitroff’s former boss Scott Pioli having been handed control of scouting and the draft, but he kept the corner office.

Know how we sometimes say a team will draw a play in the dirt? That appeared the provenance of this org chart. Know what else? It worked.

The team Quinn inherited had three big-time players — Ryan, Julio Jones, Desmond Trufant — and not much else. This redone roster has made the holdovers look better and added what the Falcons lacked, which was speed and heft and oomph. The Falcons’ past two drafts are the key to what they’ve become, and they were a departure.

The intent isn’t to revisit Dimitroff’s entire draft history, but we note this: He was very good when he had a top-10 pick — Ryan, Jones, Jake Matthews — and less good when he didn’t. That’s true of most GMs. His acquisitions of Michael Turner (free agent) and Tony Gonzalez (trade) nearly lifted the Falcons to the Super Bowl. His failing was the inability to build offensive and defensive lines. Only two Falcons linemen — Matthews and Ra’Shede Hageman — were drafted by Dimitroff pre-Quinn. (Ryan Schraeder was signed as an undrafted free agent.)

Three-fifths of this starting O-line was acquired after Quinn’s hiring. Guards Chris Chester and Andy LeVitre came, respectively, after being cut by the Redskins and demoted/traded by the Titans. Center Alex Mack was a big-ticket free agent. Apart from Julio, the receiving corps has been completely made over: Mohamed Sanu, the No. 2 wideout, was a free agent signing; Austin Hooper, now the No. 1 tight end. was a third-round draftee in April.

The defense is where the Quinn Effect has truly been felt. The past two drafts have yielded six starters: Beasley, Jalen Collins, Grady Jarrett, Keanu Neal, Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell. (Granted, Collins wouldn’t be starting if Trufant hadn’t been hurt.) Brooks Reed was signed as a free agent last year.

Really, this is how it’s supposed to work: A new coach brings his offense and defense to town, tries to fit holdovers into it and keeps those who fit. (Roddy White did not. William Moore did not.) The front office works to get the coach the sort of talent he needs, which mightn’t be the same talent required in other NFL burgs. Shanahan knew Mack would fit hit outside-zone scheme because they’re worked together in Cleveland. Neal wouldn’t have been a Round 1 pick for many teams, but Quinn viewed him as his Kam Chancellor.

Said Quinn, speaking Wednesday: “One of the terms Thomas and Scott and the guys in the office use is ‘DQ guys.’ They know what I mean by that — the toughness and the effort that we’re looking for. When we first got here, we spent quite a bit of time with the scouts and the coaches together and we put tape on and we talked through things together … That connection starts with Thomas and me, going down to the assistant coaches. (We’re) talking the same language and looking for the same thing.”

The Falcons wouldn’t be playing for a conference title if Quinn hadn’t known his business. They also wouldn’t be here if Dimitroff, twice the NFL executive of the year, had tried to protect his turf, as opposed to serving the new czar for the betterment of all. We’ve surely given too little credit to the Quinn/Dimitroff mesh — and by “we,” I absolutely mean me — but these two appear to be … well, simpatico.

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