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Falcons boost both lines in Round 3
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FLOWERY BRANCH — The Atlanta Falcons added bulk and smarts with Southeastern Conference talent on the second day of the NFL draft.

The Falcons picked defensive tackle Corey Peters of Kentucky and first-team All-America offensive guard Mike Johnson of Alabama in the third round on Friday.

Peters and Johnson join Atlanta’s first-round pick, outside linebacker Sean Weatherspoon of Missouri.

“The three positions we picked were the three positions we wanted to come out with the first two days,” said general manager Thomas Dimitroff.

Each of the three has graduated.

That’s no coincidence, according to Dimitroff, who said each player boasts what the team calls FBI — football intelligence.

“No question, football intelligence is a big part of what we’re trying to develop here,” Dimitroff said. “Our picks fall in line with what we are needing as far as football intelligence and players who are going to handle themselves properly off the field.”

The Falcons did not have a second-round pick.

Peters (6-3, 300) was a three-year starter at Kentucky. He had 49 tackles, including 11 for losses, and four sacks as a senior. He also had four sacks as a junior.

“I think I’m really a heady player and really focused during the week and prepare myself well and know my opponents’ weaknesses,” Peters said in a telephone interview on Friday night. “I think I do a good job taking advantage of that.”

Peters, the No. 83 overall pick, said he visited the Falcons, Titans, Ravens and Jets. He said Atlanta was his last visit.

“I was just hoping and praying for the best opportunity,” Peters said. “I really like the coaching staff down there.

“I’m just looking forward to working hard and possibly working my way into the starting rotation and getting on the field.”

Peters played nose tackle and defensive tackle in Kentucky’s 4-3 scheme. The Falcons also use a four-man defensive front.

Johnson (6-5, 312) completed his career at Alabama by making 41 consecutive starts. He also played offensive tackle and center.

The Falcons chose Johnson, the No. 98 overall selection, with their first of two compensatory picks for losing free agents Michael Boley, Keith Brooking, Domonique Foxworth and Grady Jackson after the 2008 season. The Falcons also have a compensatory pick at the end of the fifth round.

“We are fired up he was there,” said Dimitroff of Johnson. “The fact he’s versatile, he’s a smart football player who was definitely a part of a winning program.”

The Falcons did not have a second-round pick. They traded the pick to Kansas City last year for tight end Tony Gonzalez.
Weatherspoon was introduced at the Falcons’ facility on Friday. Weatherspoon is expected to eventually replace outside linebacker Mike Peterson, who will be 34 this season.

Dimitroff said the team followed Weatherspoon for two years, paying close attention when there were rumors the linebacker would enter the draft as a junior in 2009.

Coach Mike Smith said Weatherspoon’s skills are the perfect fit for the challenges linebackers face on run defense and pass defense.

“Our game, the NFL game, is evolving into a spacing game with more three- and four-wide sets, not necessarily with three or four wide receivers in the game, but with athletic tight ends and with running backs,” Smith said. “You’ve got to have athletic type linebackers who can match those kinds of athletes. Sean definitely has those skills.”

The Falcons are looking for more help on defense from their top two 2009 selections, defensive tackle Peria Jerry and safety William Moore. Jerry missed most of his rookie season with a knee injury, and Moore — who played with Weatherspoon at Missouri — missed the full season due to injuries.

Dimitroff said he hoped to have a more balanced draft. In 1998, his first draft with the Falcons, Dimitroff picked two immediate offensive starters in the first round — quarterback Matt Ryan and offensive tackle Sam Baker. The team took defensive players with seven of eight picks last year.

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