Falcons Make Defense a Priority

The Falcons entered the draft with the intention of adding to their defense. They selected Mississippi defensive tackle Peria Jerry with the 24th overall pick with the intention of making him an anchor of the defensive line.

The Falcons entered the draft with the intention of adding to their defense. They selected Mississippi defensive tackle Peria Jerry with the 24th overall pick with the intention of making him an anchor of the defensive line.

In the second round, they selected Missouri safety William Moore with the 55th overall pick. In the third round, they added San Jose State cornerback Chris Owens (90th overall).

"We highlighted a lot of players that we wanted to come away with in the draft," Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. "This fellow (Moore) and Peria Jerry are two guys that we had earmarked."

The top three picks will help to plug holes created by the team electing not to re-sign veteran safety Lawyer Milloy, defensive tackle Grady Jackson and cornerback Domonique Foxworth.

Jerry's quickness to shoot gaps and ability to hold up blocks at the point of attack was attractive to the Falcons. "I can help them out in numerous ways, with my quickness and speed," Jerry said. "I think I'll be a great fit for the Falcons."

Moore, who was once considered the top safety in the draft and a potential top-10 pick, dropped after having a poor senior season. "It was very tough because I know what I can do," Moore said. "I know what can of player that I am. I know what I've put in (to the game) thus far. When I slipped, I just went by what my Mom says, 'everything happens for a reason.' So it had to be a reason."

The Falcons also considered taking Connecticut cornerback Darius Butler, Southern Cal linebacker Clay Matthews Jr. and Missouri defensive tackle Evander "Ziggy" Hood with the 24th pick.

"We knew that a number of teams were interested in defensive tackles," Dimitroff said. "But with some of the movement in the draft with the trades and such, we thought we had a really good chance of landing Peria."

BEST PICK: Missouri safety William Moore was a projected top-10 pick for the 2008 draft, but elected to return to school. He was slowed by a mid-ankle sprain and his stock dropped. He is a fierce hitter and plays well in coverage. He started his career as a nickel back.

COULD SURPRISE: Furman cornerback William Middleton will try to get in the mix immediately. He could challenge Chris Houston, Brent Grimes and Von Hutchins, who is returning from a foot injury. Middleton can be a labeled a "sleeper" considering he wasn't invited to the NFL Combine, but his character and 4.46 40-yard dash time help boost his value.

A closer look at the Falcons' picks:

Round 1/24 -- Peria Jerry, DT, 6-1, 299, Mississippi
Jerry was a first-team all-American and All-Southeastern Conference pick. He can shoot gaps and had 18 tackles for losses, seven quarterback sacks and two forced fumbles last season, but he can stop the run, too. "Peria's a big ol' strong, country guy," Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. "He's going to hold the point (of attack). He has the ability to be a one-gap guy and disrupt behind the line of scrimmage. He's a high-motor defensive lineman who was very productive."

Round 2/55 -- William Moore, SS, 6-1, 221, Missouri
At this time last year, Moore was projected to be a top-10 pick if he'd entered the 2008 draft. He was slowed by an ankle injury last season and his weight fluctuated. He's known as an intimidator who delivers punishing hits, but the Falcons timed him at 4.45 seconds in the 40-yard dash. "He's a strong safety-slash-free safety. He definitely has the versatility. He is a downhill, blow you up, kind of tackler. He also has range. He's a mid-4-4 guy, so he also has speed. ... This guy definitely brings speed and urgency to our football team."

Round 3/90 -- Chris Owens, CB, 5-10, 181, San Jose State
Considered a smallish corner, some viewed Owens as a solid mid-round pick. He started all 12 games last season and has experience, having played as a true freshman, including one start.

Round 4/125 -- Lawrence Sidbury, DE, 6-2, 266, Richmond
He has a nice combination of speed and size. Sidbury also has run the 100-meter dash on Richmond's track team. He also throws the shot put. Sidbury posted the fastest 40-yard dash time (4.5 seconds) at the Scouting Combine in his group of defensive lineman. He will have a shot to land a spot in the DE rotation. Has a nice spin move, but needs to refine his techniques.

Round 5/138 -- William Middleton, CB, 5-11, 186, Furman
A three-year starter and team captain as a senior who was not invited to the NFL Scouting Combine, but ran the 40-yard dash in 4.46 seconds during his campus workout in March. Middleton graduated from Furman with a de
gree in biology and has post-football plans to attend medical school.

Round 5/156 -- Garrett Reynolds, OT, 6-7, 310, North Carolina
Nephew of the great Jack "Hacksaw" Reynolds. A second-team All-ACC pick, he started the last 26 games of his college career at right tackle. Against Maryland last season he had eight knockdown blocks.

Round 6/176 -- Spencer Adkins, LB, 5-11, 246, Miami
Was a highly touted prospect coming out of Naples High in 2004, but only started five games over his career with the Hurricanes. His best season was in 2007 when he had 52 tackles, three tackles for losses and one sack.

Round 7/210 -- Vance Walker, DT, 6-2, 304, Georgia Tech
Played alongside more heralded players Michael Johnson and Darryl Richard, but did most of the dirty work. Had 26.5 career tackles for loss, including 13 quarterback sacks. Had a rough senior season, suffering a concussion and an ankle injury.

-First round pick Peria Jerry, the defensive tackle from Ole Miss, was asked how much sleep he got Saturday night -- between getting the call in Hattiesburg, Miss., and arriving suit-clad Sunday morning at the Falcons complex.

"Just a tad," he said. And he smiled. The Falcons had flown Jerry, his mother and sister in on Arthur Blank's private jet, along with second-round pick William Moore and his mother. They arrived at 2 a.m. at Chateau Elan, where they spent the night.

The "big ol' country guy," as dubbed by Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff, Jerry said it was just an extension of the royal treatment he'd felt from the Falcons since they brought him in for a visit a week ago.

"I had told my sister a couple days before 'I really think I'm going to Atlanta,'" Jerry said. "They were the only team that worked me out. They put me in this big house on the lake (Lake Lanier.) I'm like 'Yeah, this is really nice right here.' It's a blessing to be here."

Jerry is from Batesville, Miss., a town of 7,600. He grew up hunting, fishing and riding horses. His father farms and his mother, who split from his father when Jerry was a teenager, has worked one job after another to raise seven children.

--San Jose State plays in the Western Athletic Conference, but cornerback Christopher Owens has faced some pro level competition. He used to practice against Green Bay wide receiver James Jones, who also went to San Jose State. He said that Green Bay's Jordy Nelson was tough to defend in college.

"I picked off Josh Freeman when we played Kansas State," Owens said. "I played well against Nelson." Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff worked out Owens. The Falcons have been actively scouting Owens since last spring. "I told my brother the night before that I felt good about the Falcons," Owens said. "They showed a lot of interest. I was hoping and praying that they drafted me."

--Falcons coach Mike Smith was impressed with cornerback Chris Owens' man-to-man coverage skills. "He knew from watching the tape and even in high school, all I did was play man to man," Owens said. "I'm skilled at that technique."

Owens' height is likely what kept him from being drafted higher. At times, he struggled against bigger receivers. He tries to use his speed and quickness to make up for any size disadvantage.

"It's all about positioning," said Owens, who has a 35 1/2-inch vertical jump. "If I'm in position I can compete for the ball at the highest point. I've been playing against bigger wideouts. That's been a knock on me in the past, but I'm ready for that right now."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We highlighted a lot of players that we wanted to come away with in the draft. This fellow [Moore] and Peria Jerry are two guys that we had earmarked." -- Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff on the Falcons key draft targets

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The Falcons spent three of their first five picks on the secondary. The played a lot of zone coverage last season, but want to get better in man-to-man coverage. They added strong safety William Moore in the second, San Jose State cornerback Chris Owens in the third round and Furman cornerback William Middleton in the fifth round.

Owens and Middleton will try to get in the mix by challenging Chris Houston, Brent Grimes and Von Hutchins, who is returning for a foot injury. Moore will have to beat out Thomas DeCoud, a third-round pick in 2008, and Jamaal Fudge to earn Lawyer Milloy's old position.


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