FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Watching Bruce Matthews speak on a stage before television cameras with an Atlanta Falcons banner behind him, it’s hard to get past the idea that he could easily be coaching his son Jake, the Falcons’ first-round pick on Thursday in the NFL Draft.
After all, Matthews, who played 19 seasons in the NFL and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, served as the offensive line coach of the Tennessee Titans for the past three seasons.
Plus, there’s the fact that he often gets mistaken for Falcons offensive line coach Mike Tice and vice versa.
"The best Mike Tice thing is that he is a really good-looking dude," quipped Bruce,"because I get mistaken for him all the time."
Jokes aside, when Bruce talks about Jake, it’s hard to tell whether he’s giving his personal opinion, his professional opinion or both. Bruce said Jake is "a lot more talented" than he was.
"He moves around very well," said Bruce. "He has a great feel for the game. Again, I’m very biased. He’s my favorite player in the draft. I think the Falcons did themselves a real positive by picking Jake up and that’s trying to take my dad hat off as best as I can. But having studied him and watched him and been around him his whole life, I’m not coaching right now but if I was I’d be very excited to have him as a player on my offensive front."
Later he added, "He plays with a purpose. You love that about guys that you coach."
Clearly, the Falcons feel excited to have him on their front. Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff on Friday in introducing Jake Matthews referred to him as hoping that he will be a "pillar" of the franchise.
"That’s our goal," he said. "We feel very strongly our acquisition was a pillar pick. Jake for us on the field is obviously very talented. He’s got such a great understanding, technically, sound understanding of this game and of his position. He’s very athletic. He can play both right and the left side of the line. Again, his savvy on the field is something that is second to none in this year’s draft. Off the field, and he will represent this organization exactly how we want. Very grounded, very smart, very together individual."
Jake Matthews said he is up to that pressure.
"I feel real confident that I can do that," he said. " … I’m real fired up. Whatever they ask me to do, I’m going to do it. I’m going to prove that it was the right decision and I’m able."
Part of the reason for Matthews’ savvy is his football lineage. In addition to his father, his grandfather (Clay, Sr., who is in Georgia Tech’s Hall of Fame), his uncle, his brother and his two cousins (Clay III and Casey) have played in the league. His father would try to watch all of his games on television and watch each of his plays. Afterwards, Bruce and Jake would talk and break down situations.
At sixth overall, Jake is the highest drafted member of the family.
Jake, who was humbled by being drafted so high, said that he felt it was a "steal" for him personally to get picked by a team like the Falcons, which played in the NFC Championship Game as recently as January 2013.
"Being able to get picked this high and for such a great team," he said. "This is a team that can compete for the Super Bowl next year and I’m really happy to be a part of it and hopefully I can help protect Matt Ryan."
The Falcons’ inability to protect Ryan was a major factor as to why they went 4-12 last season and ended up drafting so high to be able to pick Matthews.
Bruce referred to that briefly. During training camp in 2012, the Falcons and Titans, when Bruce Matthews was still on the staff, held combined practices outside of Dalton, Georgia. He was asked his observations of that Falcons team.
"I know defensively they were talented," he said. "We were a little thin in some areas offensively. I thought, OK, the big thing was the depth they had. They had some guys who definitely presented match-up problems for us and then we played them that season. They got after us pretty good…
"Man, what a talented team, I thought. Plus, last year with Jake Locker’s injury situation. You’ve got to have a quarterback who’s in there playing every game. As tough as last year was, it’s a great testimony to Matt Ryan that he played the whole year and got beat up a little bit — a lot, I should say. But I guess that’s why they brought Jake in."