*Falcons defensive end Kroy Biermann has come a long way since being the stringy-haired kid from the University of Montana who couldn't seem to get his first name pronounced correctly by others. The third-year player has shown a remarkable transition from a 'classic tweener' when he was first drafted by the Falcons in 2008 to a wrecking ball of a starting defensive end whose NFL star is clearly on the rise. *
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Thomas Dimitroff smiles.
He's listening to some of the negatives listed on a 2008 scouting report on defensive end Kroy Biermann before returning to a straight face.
"Classic 'tweener prospect who some feel is a product of Montana's system," one item from the report reads.
There's that smile again.
"I agree that he's a product of the Montana system, and that's hard-working, hard-nose, get after it and play, passionate football, because that's what they're about there," the Falcons general manager said Wednesday. "Kudos to (Biermann) that he does play in that fashion. He's a guy who has a very good element of athleticism to him. He's got play speed. He's got a nose for the ball and he's got the drive to make plays on every down."
Head coach Mike Smith seemed to share that same smile Monday.
"Instinctive, high-effort player who may be maxed out," another item from Biermann's scouting report read.
"Yeah, we saw a high-effort player that played at the University of Montana that had some pass rush skills," Smith said. "We were concerned about his growth potential because he was really, I think, just a 245-pound defensive end, but he was a guy when we got an opportunity to sit down and see him, we saw that he had the potential to get bigger. And he has gotten bigger. He's also a guy that, I think, was just scratching the surface in terms of technique, in terms of being a pass rusher in this league."
After Sunday's game against Cleveland, consider the surface completely shattered. The expectations of Biermann within the Falcons organization and fanbase were high coming into training camp, but few outside the gates of the Falcons' Flowery Branch training facility knew the name of the third-year player out of the University of Montana.
Monday night — one day after Biermann's incredible play where he rushed Browns quarterback Jake Delhomme, tipped a pass up in the air, dived to make the interception, got up and rumbled 31 yards for a touchdown — well, they still struggled to learn his name, as ESPN anchor Chris Berman referred to the Falcons defensive end as "Kory Biermann."
To those inside the league, however, Biermann has become a player to respect. One person who definitely learned Biermann's name is Eagles head coach Andy Reid, who called Biermann "fast and aggressive" during his conference call with the Atlanta media Wednesday.
But Biermann didn't always catch the attention of NFL head coaches, as is evidenced by some of the negatives written about him when he came out of Montana and entered the NFL Draft. There were even more question marks associated with Biermann, who Atlanta drafted in the fifth round of the 2008 draft.
Another item on Biermann's NFL.com scouting report read, "Good use of hands to slap away the initial attempt of pass blockers, but lacks the strength to hold up once truly engaged."
That may have been true of the Kroy Biermann that went into Montana weighing just 215, which had him recruited as a linebacker. But the Atlanta Falcons Kroy Biermann has bulked up to 260, proving that whoever thought he was maxed out physically was dead wrong.
"I think that just comes with age, and it comes from growing as an adult," Biermann said. "I lifted really heavy. I did a lot of power lifting in college, which put on a lot of muscle and a lot of strength. Then, when I got here, it's all based on movement and core activation and things like that. You get that flexibility while you're still building muscle. I think size and strength kind of just comes with age. I've trained hard, and I've taken a little time off here and there, but most of it I've spent training and focusing on my career and making the best of it."
Biermann's dedication to his physical health is nearly second to none. He has a wrestling background and he jumped at the opportunity to train in mixed martial arts with fighter Frank Trigg when it presented itself during the offseason. Those things helped teach him leverage and control a his body grew bigger.
His physical growth was highly noticed when he came into training camp this year, and the added muscle helped defy the criticism that he "lacks the strength to hold up once truly engaged."
With all the added growth, however, Biermann doesn't feel any different. His play, however, seems to suggest that he's much more comfortable with the strength he's put on.
"It's hard to say. It's hard to compare," Biermann said. "I feel good and I feel healthy, which is all I can ask for right now. You want to maintain that strength. If you can make gains, you're way ahead of the game. I enjoy lifting, I enjoy lifting hard, practicing and staying in shape. It's something that I've spent my whole life doing so I just want to continue to try to improve my game and get better."
The reason Biermann hasn't noticed any change in his physical abilities might be related to the mental change that all NFL players go through during their first few years in the league. Perhaps that has been more noticeable than the changes in his physical abilities.
Biermann has come a long way from being the stringy-haired kid from Montana who couldn't seem to get his name pronounced correctly by others. He has completely redefined his image, as he told Falcons VP of football communications Reggie Roberts recently, to a clean-cut, custom-suit-wearing NFL star on the rise.
And that confidence and change in mentality has also seeped into the way he plays on the field. He's showing that he's more comfortable with what his responsibilities are, and once the mental side is taken care of, it allows Biermann to throw the physical into high gear.
"The old adage is, when you overthink things, you lose some of your athleticism, and at times early in a player's career, they may not be the athletes that they truly are because they're overthinking," Dimitroff said. "Now that he's in his third year, he's getting upfield without hesitation, playing the game of football the way that he knows how to play it, and I think his athleticism and his abilities are really starting to shine."