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Michael Ross Southwest AREA scout

By Matthew Tabeek

"We’ve been a given clear-cut picture. This is what I’m looking for at quarterback. This is what I’m looking for at receiver. Instead of ‘these are the measurables that we want, the requirements,’ that kind of thing. They actually show you the picture. I know exactly what’s going to fit in Coach Quinn’s system, especially on defense."

Michael Ross is used to betting on himself – trusting his eyes and his instincts. It is, after all, what he does for a living as the Southwest area scout for the Atlanta Falcons.

It’s also something Ross has done his entire life and throughout his young career.

“Go with your gut,” says Ross, 30, who grew up playing hockey and golf in upstate New York because he was too small to play football, the game he loved most.

Ross may have “stayed the same” size while everyone else in high school was getting bigger, but that didn’t stop him from getting involved with football. As Ross puts it, he “had to be around it.”

And that’s what Ross did. He stayed home for college, attended Syracuse and eventually became the student manager for the football team. “I would talk to scouts coming in and it was something I was always intrigued with,” Ross said.

That interest really took off when his parents divorced and his mother married Bob Burns, a longtime coach and former scout with the Washington Redskins and Cleveland Browns. “That’s when I realized that this could be a different avenue to stay around the game,” Ross said.

Ross eventually landed an internship with the Indianapolis Colts for the 2007 training camp before graduating early from Syracuse that December. The following spring, he was ultimately offered internships with two NFL teams: the Atlanta Falcons and the Buffalo Bills.

“I just went with my gut and basically decided to be in Atlanta,” Ross said, who also noted that his stepfather once worked with Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff in Cleveland. “Thomas was here. So, he took a chance on me and I haven’t looked back.”

After working as a scouting assistant in 2011, Ross spent two seasons as an area scout, scouting players in the Northeast in 2012 and the Midwest in 2013. In 2014, Ross split his time between college and pro scouting, covering the Northeast region as well as all professional leagues. He also provided the coaching staff with advance scouting reports for upcoming opponents, evaluating players in the free agency market, and maintaining the daily waiver wire. He spent the 2015 season in the Midwest region.

Ross will scout all colleges in the Southwest in 2017, a region that covers Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas and Nebraska.

Competitiveness, toughness and sense of responsibility

With Falcons coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff in place, Ross says the culture has always been about competitiveness and toughness. “That’s real,” he says. But what’s different now, he says, is that they’ve taken it to another level and it’s showing everywhere, most importantly on the field.

“There’s more emphasis on it,” Ross said. “It’s not like we didn’t focus on those areas (before). It’s driven into everybody. Whether it be the personnel department, the coaches, the players – they give themselves CT scores now. It’s gone to a whole new level.”

That, in turn, drives Ross to be better at his own job. “I was hired to do a job and if I feel like I’m not cutting my weight, that’s bringing the team down,” Ross said.

He, like all of the scouts with the Falcons, takes pride in knowing their “finger prints” are all over the Falcons roster. But there’s also a great sense of responsibility – during the ups and downs with each win and every loss.

The picture for success is crystal clear

Ross said that Quinn and Dimitroff have given the scouts “a clear-cut picture” on what a player should look like at every position. A blueprint, if you will.

“Ultimately, Thomas, he can’t go out to every school,” Ross said. “He’s got other things to worry about – he’s worried about this team. We’ve been a given clear-cut picture. This is what I’m looking for at quarterback. This is what I’m looking for at receiver. Instead of ‘these are the measurables that we want, the requirements,’ that kind of thing. They actually show you the picture. I know exactly what’s going to fit in Coach Quinn’s system, especially on defense.”

Ross, who says the draft is definitely one of the high points for scouts each year, gets a kick out of some of the mock drafts, especially in the months and weeks leading up to it every April.

“We’re going to pass on some of the talent and fans sometimes just have no idea why,” said Ross. “I look at ’em once in a while and I’m like, ‘you’re telling me this guy is that?’”

With success comes opportunities

Ross has been with the Falcons for nine years, seven of them as a full-time member of the staff. He says he wants to be a general manager one day, but he also knows “that success breeds opportunities.”

“Yes, I do want to excel in this business,” Ross said. “I do have friends that are getting these titles. It’s not discouraging to me by any means that I’m just an area scout. The time will come. If it’s meant to be, the time will come.”

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