FLOWERY BRANCH — Peria Jerry has to fill a big void on the Atlanta Falcons’ defensive front.
He’ll be asked to replace Grady Jackson, who was a massive 345-pound run-stopper in the middle of the defense before signing with Detroit as a free agent.
Jerry, the Atlanta Falcons’ first-round draft pick from Mississippi, has tried to mold himself after another big, successful defensive tackle.
"In college, coach (Ed) Orgeron, my first coach, had these stack of tapes on his desk and he was like ‘Peria, these are for you, and they are all of Warren Sapp,"’ Jerry said Sunday. "I kind of took them and ran with them. I think I learned a lot from them and they helped a lot with my game."
Sapp, Tampa Bay’s first-round pick in 1995, played 13 years in the NFL with the Buccaneers and Raiders as a run-stopping defensive tackle who recorded 96.5 career sacks.
Jerry (6-2, 299) earned first-team All-America honors by showing similar versatility for Ole Miss.
Jerry, whose first-name is pronounced Per-RAY, led the Southeastern Conference with 18 tackles for losses and ranked fifth with seven sacks as the Rebels ranked fourth in the nation in rushing defense.
"I think I can do a little bit of both," Jerry said.
"I can pass rush. I can stop the run. There’s always room to improve in both. I can get better in both."
The Falcons made Jerry the 24th overall pick on Saturday. General manager Thomas Dimitroff said Sunday he was tempted to move up in the draft to make sure he was able to select the defensive tackle.
"To be honest with you we contemplated moving up for Peria because he was one of the guys we definitely targeted as a guy who was going to be an impact type of guy for us on the defensive front," Dimitroff said.
William Moore says his 2007 statistics, not his 2008 results, show what the Falcons are getting from their second-round pick.
Moore was a second-team All-America pick as a junior after he tied for third in the nation with eight interceptions in 2007, setting a school record for Missouri. As a senior, however, Moore was only a second-team All-Big 12 pick after he had only one interception.
The statistical decline forced Moore, who was rated as a possible first-round pick if he entered the 2008 NFL draft, to drop to the second round on Saturday. Moore says the Falcons landed a bargain.
"I had big expectations for myself going into the draft," Moore said Sunday as he visited the Falcons’ practice facility. "I felt I was one of the best safeties coming in, but everything happens for a reason. My senior season, I just got banged up and had injuries that nagged me throughout the whole season.
"The 2007 season really showed what kind of player I am. That ain’t a fluke."
Moore (6-0, 221) said he suffered an ankle injury in his first 2008 game against Illinois. He said he put his team first by trying to play through the injury.
"As a captain I wanted to show my teammates I’m willing to sacrifice everything I have in front of me," he said. "It wasn’t about what I had ahead of me, it was about my senior season."
Hacksaw’s nephew on board
Atlanta’s second fifth-round pick, North Carolina offensive tackle Garrett Reynolds, is the nephew of former longtime NFL linebacker Jack "Hackshaw" Reynolds, who was the Rams’ first-round pick in 1970 and won two Super Bowls with the San Francisco 49ers.
Garrett Reynolds is from Knoxville, Tenn. His father, Art, and Jack Reynolds played at Tennessee. At North Carolina, Garrett Reynolds (6-8, 310) was a second-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference pick as a senior. He made 26 consecutive starts at right tackle.
The Falcons’ draft class includes one hometown favorite.
William Middleton, a cornerback from Furman, was a high school star at Marist in Atlanta. His family lives in Norcross, where he was home watching when he was picked by the Falcons in the fifth round on Sunday.
"Anytime you can play in your hometown, especially in a city like Atlanta, it’s more than a blessing," Middleton said.
Middleton said he never visited the Falcons’ new training facility in Flowery Branch but said he had a close view of the Falcons when the team staged training camp at Furman his freshman season.
"They took our locker room while they had training camp and we were kind of dressing outside," he said. "I just remember those days as a true freshman at Furman thinking it would be great if I could one day play in Atlanta."
Middleton (5-11, 186) was a three-year starter at Furman, where he had seven career interceptions, including four in 2008. He graduated with a degree in biology. He said plans to attend medical school have been put on hold.