Why Terry Fontenot, Arthur Smith fortified offensive, defensive fronts with specific types of linemen 

Head coach and GM, explain why OL Matt Bergeron, DL Zach Harrison fit what Falcons are building up front

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Terry Fontenot sat before the press shortly after making the Falcons' final Day 2 draft pick and spoke before the first question got out.

"We clearly value the line of scrimmage," the general manager said. "That's where games are won and lost."

That was evident during free agency, where Fontenot and head coach Arthur Smith kept the offensive line largely intact and remade the defensive line (around Grady Jarrett) into a great wall.

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It was reinforced during the NFL Draft's second and third rounds, when they fortified both fronts.

Fontenot traded up to No. 38 overall to acquire Syracuse offensive lineman Matthew Bergeron, a career tackle who will move inside and have a chance to compete at left guard, the line's only open slot.

Then they stood pat at No. 75 and took Ohio State defensive lineman Zach Harrison, an end who can play inside and sports top-tier athletic traits at both positions.

"We got bigger. We added size, strength and power up front," Fontenot said. "Both of those guys are wired the right way. They're made of things that we [covet]."

Fontenot and Smith have made it clear they plan to turn the lines into organizational bedrock. They've poured significant assets into that effort, both money and draft picks.

"We love the way today went," Fontenot said. "We want to go up and get Matt, and that worked out. We were excited about a bunch of guys at 75 and were happy to end up with Zach.

"We value the line of scrimmage, and we also made investments in free agency because the right guys were able. We never go into a draft stating we need a certain number of players here or there. We want to take guys we have a clear vision for, guys who are going to make an impact."

It's clear the Falcons want strong and talented lines, with enough depth to bring young players along at a proper pace. There are also qualities within the position group Smith and Fontenot's action had proven to be important.

As Fontenot put it, both guys are violent and physical. They want to finish. They want to dominate.

That's the mentality, but there's more to it than that.

Versatility is also key.

While the term positionless football generally (that's a key word here) applies to skill players, the Falcons like offensive linemen who can play different positions. They believe Bergeron can transition well inside despite but a few Senior Bowl practices working there after playing tackle in college.

"Everyone has their philosophy within their scheme, and everybody has their cup of tea with offensive linemen, but for us and our vision it starts with the way he's built. … We feel good within our program and with our coaches and their ability to develop him."

The Falcons also like versatility in their defensive ends, but size is another feature of their free-agent signings. Harrison fits right in with that at 6-foot-5, 274 pounds. The Falcons have made a concerted effort to get bigger up front, adding Calais Campbell (282), David Onyemata (300), Bud Dupree (269) to help Grady Jarrett (305) in the starting lineup, with depth featuring similar body types.

That's a style of front Ryan Nielsen coached in New Orleans to great effect, both in run and pass defense. Harrison's a big dude with great athleticism that translated into pressures but not a ton of sacks. The Ohio State product is entering a good system for his skill set and an organization committed to proper long-term development.

"It's about how we develop these guys and let them have some success early," Smith said. "He's a smart guy and eventually, as his game evolves, we can play him in both spots. Early on, on early downs, you can develop him off the edge. There's a lot of veterans he can learn from in that [meeting room]. As he gains experience, his game can expand.

"…There's no pressure immediately for him, because of the way that room is constructed."

That goes back to a comment Smith originally made in his pre-draft press conference that got repeated on Friday night: The Falcons don't feel desperate. They didn't enter this draft with truly pressing needs. Even at open spots there's experienced competition on hand. No draft pick needs to be a savior.

That has an ancillary benefit.

"A lot of times you feel thin and that you need to add something to compete going into Week 1," Smith said. "The way we are now, we feel like we can develop at the right pace. We don't feel like we have to bring anyone along too fast."

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