published Sunday, April 29th, 2012

Falcons add Massaquoi

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Before the NFL draft began, Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff knew his team would not create a national buzz.

Last year's first pick for Atlanta, receiver Julio Jones at sixth overall, caught everyone's attention.

The Falcons' first selection this year -- No. 55 overall -- was an offensive lineman from Wisconsin who can play both center and guard.

"Let's just get some solid football players who can fit into roster spots of need," Dimitroff said Saturday night.

A day after picking guard-center Peter Konz in the second round and Southern Mississippi offensive tackle Lamar Holmes in the third, the Falcons fleshed out their draft with a potential successor to fullback Ovie Mughelli and adding depth to their defense.

Bradie Ewing, a fifth-round pick from Wisconsin, could replace Mughelli as the starting fullback. The Falcons could decide to release Mughelli, a respected team leader and nine-year veteran, to create room under the NFL salary cap.

Seven spots after picking Ewing, Atlanta added Troy pass rusher Jonathan Massaquoi in the fifth round. The Falcons chose Mississippi State strong safety Charles Mitchell in the middle of the sixth round and South Carolina defensive tackle Travian Robertson late in the seventh.

Mughelli was named to the Pro Bowl two years ago, but his 2011 season ended with a Week 7 knee injury. Despite the many roles he plays on Atlanta's special teams, Mughelli could become expendable because Ewing played a similar role at Wisconsin.

Atlanta also has Mike Cox on the depth chart at fullback. Cox signed a two-year contract as a free agent after Mughelli was injured. Mughelli's contract this year will count $3.7 million against the NFL salary cap.

"I don't want to comment on our financial situation and our cap situation publicly," Dimitroff said. "That's what we discuss back in our offices. Suffice it to say, we feel like this opens up competition at the position. We feel like we have three solid fullbacks here that we hope will compete very strongly for the job."

After walking on at Wisconsin, Ewing became an offensive captain as a senior and contributed heavily to the Badgers' coverage and return units on special teams.

According to information released by the university, Ewing's blocks resulted in 30 touchdowns last season. He caught all 28 passes targeted to him in his four-year career. He was a Wisconsin teammate of Peter Konz, an offensive lineman drafted by Atlanta in the second round Friday.

"Obviously, drafting me as a fullback, I can block, I can catch, I can split out as a receiver," Ewing said. "I think it's my versatility and I'm just excited to get down there."

Massaquoi, a cousin of Cleveland Browns receiver and former Georgia standout Mohamed Massaquoi, left Troy after his junior year. He started 25 games and finished his Trojans career with 19.5 sacks.

When Atlanta begins its mandatory three-day mini-camp June 19, Massaquoi will work behind starting ends John Abraham and Ray Edwards and compete for playing time with Kroy Biermann and Lawrence Sidbury.

Massaquoi grew up as a Falcons fan in the Atlanta suburb of Lawrenceville, where he played for current Dade County coach Bradley Warren at Central Gwinnett High School. He spent the 2008 season at Butler (Kan.) Community College, helping the school win a junior college national title.

"I have a nonstop motor," he said. "I want to get to that ball no matter the depths of the field, and I believe the Atlanta Falcons see my relentless spirit and how bad I want to get to the quarterback."

Massaquoi hopes to follow in the footsteps of other former Troy standouts who became NFL stars.

"With them producing Osi Umenyiora, DeMarcus Ware and now me, hopefully I can be put into that conversation of our powerful tradition," Massaquoi said. "Only time will tell."

The Falcons, who will work under new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan this season, upgraded their secondary Wednesday by trading for cornerback Asante Samuel.

The only starter not returning from last year's defense is middle linebacker Curtis Lofton, who signed with New Orleans.

Mitchell, who graduated in December, played in all 50 games of his career and was a senior team captain with Mississippi State. He likely will compete with reserve safety Shann Schillinger for a roster spot, but must show Atlanta coaches that he can contribute heavily on special teams.

Mitchell credits his success at safety with understanding how to watch film and break down opponents' strengths and weaknesses.

"I'm a pretty physical guy," he said. "I pride myself on making tackles and I always try to be around the ball."

Robertson, a compensatory pick, was the 242nd player chosen. He will compete with Peria Jerry, Atlanta's first-round pick from 2009, and Vance Walker, a former undrafted free agent, for snaps behind starting defensive tackles Jonathan Babineaux and Corey Peters.

Atlanta's defense finished 18th in points allowed and 20th in total yards last season.

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