FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — The New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons were in their final segment of Tuesday’s combined practice when Thomas Dimitroff took a step back.

Make that a few steps back.

Instead of assuming his usual practice spot close to the sideline, Atlanta’s general manager sought a big-picture look at the 11-on-11 team drill.

“I was standing way back, just taking it all in, just more of a big picture than I ever have,” he said.

The new vantage point provided Dimitroff a big-picture view of his career.

Dimitroff was the Pats’ director of college scouting from 2003-07. He helped find players who were in back-to-back Super Bowls in the 2003-04 seasons.

Now in his third season as Atlanta’s GM, Dimitroff and Coach Mike Smith have led a makeover that produced immediate results. The Falcons made the playoffs with 11 wins in 2008 and finished 9-7 last year for the first back-to-back winning seasons in franchise history.

“You talk about fast-forwarding that many years and here I am humbly stated as one of the co-builders of this team, and there is the former team I was with that I learned so much about,” he said. “I was feeling proud of the product we have on the field and showing my former team what we’re creating here. It’s a good feeling, a good feeling.”

The combined practices gave Dimitroff a chance to show off his new team to the Patriots and Coach Bill Belichick.

“It was a bit surreal to step back in the final period there and be watching both sides and feeling like, you know, this is my former team where I learned so much in terms of team-building and feeling proud of the product we have,” Dimitroff said.

The Falcons and Patriots will play an exhibition Thursday night at the Georgia Dome.

This is the second set of combined practices for each team. The Falcons held combined practices with Jacksonville last week while the Patriots played host to New Orleans.

Belichick said his relationship with Dimitroff “probably was the starting point” of the agreement to hold one day of combined practices.

“We talked about it in the past, ‘Hey, if we ever get the chance to do it, it’s something we’ll look into,’ ” Belichick said. “When the preseason schedule came out, it fit. If we hadn’t played them in preseason, I don’t think this would have happened.”

With owners expected to discuss cutting two games from the preseason, Dimitroff said the combined practices may become more common.

“There is the potential we’re going to see a lot more of this,” he said. “Quite honestly I’m happy we’re on the front end of the curve here and one of the first teams that’s doing this with two teams. In my mind it could possibly evolve into a situation where these combined practices will be in lieu of two preseason games.”

The visit created a buzz rarely seen at the Falcons’ camp in August. Every completed pass from Tom Brady drew applause from fans. There were loud cheers after Brady’s deep completions.

“They’re a talented offense,” said Smith. “We saw a great quarterback and a great wide receiver.”

Meanwhile, Falcons fans cheered Matt Ryan’s completions to Atlanta’s receivers.

At one point the quarterbacks were leading first-team offenses on adjacent fields.

“There’s an element of competitiveness with Tom being on one field and Matt on the other,” Dimitroff said. “I started listening for the roars of the crowd when Matt completed passes. You look and there’s Tom completing one and then you look and Matt is completing one.”


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