If you know anything about Atlanta general manager Thomas Dimitroff and coach Mike Smith, you know these guys aren’t the types to show a lot of excitement.
They’re calm, methodical and live firmly in a world where public expectations almost always are toned down in a calculated attempt to avoid disappointments. So why was it every time Kerry Meier’s name came up during the NFL owners meeting in New Orleans earlier this week, Dimitroff and Smith sounded -- by their standards -- giddy? They sounded like the clock had been pushed ahead a month and they had just drafted Meier. Or they sounded like they did last year when they really did draft Meier.
Two very mature and understated men couldn’t help themselves from sounding like kids with a new toy when they talked about the guy they drafted in the fifth round (No. 165 overall) last year. Their eyes lit up and their voices carried an extra decibel of excitement when they talked about their hopes for Meier this year.
“He’s a guy who has a really large number of the attributes that translate into success in the NFL,’’ Smith said.
Meier has yet to do a thing in his NFL career, but Smith and Dimitroff expect that to change quickly. They drafted Meier as a wide receiver out of Kansas last year, but they believe they drafted much more than a wide receiver. Meier is one of those guys who can do just about anything on the football field.
He played some quarterback in college. He also made a quick and smooth switch to receiver and put up some huge numbers. He even held for extra points and field goals and served as a backup punter. When the Falcons drafted Meier last year, there was even some talk about him having the ability to play some at H-back or tight end.
All that potential is still there, but the Falcons have yet to have the chance to see it in an NFL game. Drafted only a week after his older brother, Dylan, died in a hiking accident on a family outing, Meier’s rookie season ended before it started. He tore his anterior cruciate ligament in the preseason and spent the season on injured reserve.
The Falcons aren’t getting regular reports on Meier during the lockout because teams aren’t allowed to have contact with players. But the last medical update on Meier is a big part of the reason Smith and Dimitroff are so excited about his prospects for the upcoming season.
“Kerry has done an outstanding job with his rehabilitation,’’ Smith said. “When we had our end-of-year physicals, Kerry was way ahead of schedule.’’
The mere fact Smith is giving injury updates in March is hugely significant. This is a guy, who like most coaches, usually talks about injuries only in the broadest of terms and the fact he’s saying Meier is way ahead of schedule must mean the receiver could step onto the field at whatever moment the lockout ends.
“I don’t want to lay out any timetable right now, but, yes, Kerry is way ahead of schedule,’’ Dimitroff said. “This is an individual who we are so proud to have on our team because his approach to everything is so top-notch. He’s a quality guy. He’s an intelligent guy and he has the skill set that we’re looking for as the next bigger receiver.’’
Yes, the next bigger receiver could be the next big thing in Atlanta’s offense. Let’s make it clear the Falcons aren’t looking at Meier as the speed receiver so many people think they need. That’s not his game.
He’s 6-foot-2 and 224 pounds and never has been known for his downfield speed. The Falcons can fill that role with Harry Douglas, if the receiver continues to progress from the knee injury that kept him out for the 2009 season or they can go out and draft a speed guy.
Meier’s role isn’t nearly as one-dimensional. The Falcons view him as the jack-of-all-trades receiver veteran Brian Finneran has been. Finneran’s a potential free agent and isn’t likely to be offered a contract to return. That’s because the Falcons believe Meier can do all the things Finneran did and more.
In the short term, the Falcons want to use Meier in a receiver group in which Roddy White is the total package, Michael Jenkins is a complementary player who excels as a possession receiver and blocker and Douglas, Eric Weems and whoever might come in the draft, will compete for the slot-receiver spot.
The plan is to let Meier play a variety of roles to maximize his versatility. Smith isn’t about to give away the playbook, but it’s not hard to imagine Meier getting some time at receiver on running downs or lining up at H-back or tight end. He’s also likely to be a regular on special teams. Heck, it’s not anywhere near a stretch to picture Meier taking on another of Finneran’s former roles -- lining up on defense at safety and using his height to knock down Hail Mary passes or his strength to make an open field tackle in a pinch.
“Kerry and his family went through such a difficult time last summer and then he got hurt,’’ Smith said. “In that kind of situation, a lot of guys would have gone into a shell and just disappeared. Kerry never did. He just threw himself into his rehabilitation and he’s been absolutely hammering it.’’
The long-term plans for Meier could be even more significant. The Falcons believe he can be much more than just a Finneran clone. They view him as a guy who, over time, could develop into a starter because he can do many of the same things Jenkins can do.
But that’s down the road. For now, the Falcons just want to get Meier back on the field and into their offense.
“We got a look at his skill set in training camp and in the preseason games he played in last year,’’ Dimitroff said. “This is a guy we think can really help us in a lot of ways. We want him back. We want him back because we think he can be a very integral part of our offense.’’