FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff was burning the midnight oil on the eve of his team’s final day of minicamp.
In a single night, Dimitroff pulled off a pair of moves intended to upgrade the Falcons’ depth — something that proved to be a glaring weakness for Atlanta’s 4-12 campaign last year.
The Falcons acquired backup quarterback T.J. Yates, a Marietta native, from Houston in exchange for middle linebacker Akeem Dent and signed linebacker Tim Dobbins.
Perhaps not surprisingly, on Thursday, the Falcons waived Dominique Davis, the 2013 backup quarterback — just hours after the end of minicamp.
Moving Dent, a third-round pick out of Georgia in 2011, is not much of a shocker. He lost his starting job last season to undrafted rookie Paul Worrilow and with the Falcons’ drafting four linebackers last month, the handwriting was on the wall for Dent, who started 14 games in 2012.
"We’re always calibrating our roster," head coach Mike Smith said on Thursday. "We’re always trying to put the most competitive roster in place to give ourselves the best opportunity to win. This was an opportunity that came up for us. We feel like it’s going to create a very competitive roster where we need to have some competition and we appreciate what Akeem Dent has done for us over the last three years."
Yates, 27, has started five regular-season games, all as a rookie in 2011. Overall, he has played 13 games, completing 101 of 166 attempts (60.8 percent) for 1,100 yards with three touchdowns and six interceptions. He also won a playoff game that season, subbing for injured starter Matt Schaub.
Smith said that Yates’ experience was a factor in the move.
"Yes, I think you always want to have your backup quarterback, if you can, it doesn’t always work out that way, to have played games," he said. "T.J. has played in games. He’s played in big games. He’s won a playoff game for the Houston Texans. so he is an experienced player and we look forward to getting him here."
Smith acknowledged the timing was not ideal, as Yates missed out on Organized Team Activities and minicamp. Still, the Falcons cut Chris Redman after preseason games had begun in August 2012 and brought in Luke McCown, though McCown already was familiar with offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter’s system, given their ties with Jacksonville.
"It’s a little awkward, getting him this time of year, but he will have an opportunity in training camp to learn our system and I don’t think he’ll have any issue with that," Smith said.
To compensate for the loss of minicamp reps, Yates will have to learn quickly from quarterback Matt Ryan.
During the 2011 lockout, Ryan worked with rookie wide receiver Julio Jones during player- organized workouts. Ryan has met Yates twice, once when Yates visited the Falcons’ training facility as a college QB at North Carolina, and then in 2011 when the Falcons played the Texans.
"We played against him a couple of years ago, he got the better of us when we were down in Houston," Ryan said. "I’ve met him a couple of times. Really nice guy. Looking forward to working with him and what he can bring to our group. I’m excited to get the chance to meet him."
Smith referred to the five or so weeks between now and the start of training camp as a "dead period," under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement.
"We can’t have contact with the guys," he said.
Smith addressed the media prior to the team’s move to cut Davis. Clearly, the move came down to a numbers game. The Falcons are high on Sean Renfree, a seventh-round draft pick last season, and undrafted rookie free agent Jeff Mathews out of Cornell.
Davis was the odd man out. By cutting him now, he will have plenty of time to catch on with another team.
"Well, obviously, the more quarterbacks you have, the more you have to spread out the snaps," he said. " … The quarterback situation is no different than any other: You can’t always have the number of guys that you would like at that position."
In terms of the Dobbins’ signing, the Falcons have needed to upgrade the inside linebacker position in their 3-4 base since last week when Sean Weatherspoon, their top linebacker, was lost for the season with a torn Achilles.
In that spot, the Falcons currently have two players who were undrafted rookies last season, Worrilow and Joplo Bartu. Among the linebackers they drafted, Prince Shembo was the highest selected as a fourth-rounder.
The 6-foot-1, 234-pound Dobbins has played in 110 games, including 22 starts, while totaling 253 tackles (195 solo) with three interceptions, two sacks, and 12 passes defensed.
Dobbins played his first four seasons with San Diego and the 2010 season in Miami when current Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan held the same position at the time with the Dolphins. Dobbins played the past three seasons with Houston, which has used a 3-4 scheme.
"I think that’s going to be a very interesting dynamic when we go through our training camp," Smith said of the inside linebackers. "We’ve got two guys that started for us last year. We’ve got Prince Shembo, who we’re very excited about. He’s picked up the system very well. He doesn’t have any experience but we’re going to get him a lot in the preseason.
"Then we added a linebacker (Wednesday) that we had in for a workout about a week ago. Dobbins, he’s had a lot of experience. He’s got games under his belt and I think that’s going to be important that we have some guys who have played some games."
With both Smith and Dimitroff potentially on the hot seat, the Falcons are leaving nothing to chance at any position when it comes to depth.â