SUWANEE, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Henning said he didn't plan to select three players from the same school, but if it was going to be done, Oklahoma was the place to start.
The Falcons, desperate for help after finishing 25th among the 28 NFL teams in defense, took Oklahoma defensive stalwarts as their first three picks Tuesday and seven defenders among their nine picks in the first eight rounds in a draft top-heavy with defensive players.
'We evaluated the team and decided we needed defensive help, especially against the type of teams that we play in our division,' said Henning. 'We think in order to make the playoffs and get a shot at the championship, we have to be able to stop the run.'
The Falcons, coming off a disappointing 7-9 season, took 6-foot-4, 260-pound tackle Rick Bryan in the first round and 6-0, 188-pound safety Scott Case and 6-1, 235-pound linebacker Thomas Benson in the second. They had an extra second-round pick acquired last year in a trade with Philadelpha for linebacker Joel Williams.
'All three of these guys are strong against the run,' said Henning.
The Atlanta coach said the Oklahoma system had nothing to do with the selections.
'That's just the way it fell,' he said. 'But if you are going to take three players from the same school, over the last 10 years Oklahoma would quite likely be the school.'
In the ninth and 10th rounds, the Falcons picked offensive tackle Glen Howe of Southern Mississippi and defensive back Derrick Franklin of Fresno State.
In the next six rounds, the Falcons selected defensive back Rodney McSwain of Clemson, linebacker Rydell Malancon of Louisiana State, tight end Cliff Benson of Purdue, quarterback Ben Bennett of Duke, linebacker Kirk Dodge of Nevada-Las Vegas, and linebacker Jeff Jackson of Auburn.
'Ourplan was to stay with defense,' said General Manager Tom Braatz. 'A defensive lineman was our priority in the first round.'
Henning said he expects Bryan to 'come in and be a force for us to stop the run. We think Case and Benson can compete to do the same thing. They are both strong against the run.'
The Atlanta coach described Bryan as a 'very versatile defensive lineman. He's rangy and he handles one-on-one blocking very well. He's a guy who can play either inside or outside in our 4-3 defensive scheme.'
Bryan eclipsed the famed Selmon brothers to become Oklahoma's career leader in tackles for a lineman with 352. He is the only Oklahoma lineman to record over 100 tackles three years in a row.
Henning said Case played both cornerback and safety for Oklahoma but the Falcons project him as a safety. 'He is a very versatile defensive back, very intelligent,' said Henning.
He said Benson has 'a reputation as a hitter, sound physically and a tough football player. He can play the run and he's fast enough to drop back and cover the pass.'