Back from injury, Falcons’ Avery Williams likes NFL’s new kickoff rules

Atlanta Falcons cornerback Avery Williams runs against the Carolina Panthers during the first half of an NFL football game on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Jacob Kupferman)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Atlanta Falcons cornerback Avery Williams runs against the Carolina Panthers during the first half of an NFL football game on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Jacob Kupferman)

FLOWERY BRANCH — Last season, while rehabbing from left knee surgery, running back Avery Williams basically moved into the team’s headquarters.

When he wasn’t rehabbing, Williams was in special-teams coordinator Marquice Williams’ office reviewing film or studying the opposition.

“I did that when I was playing,” Avery Williams said. “Back in ‘22, I was hanging around the building leaving late. Hanging around Quice’s office. I feel like it’s good luck.”

After leading the NFL in punt returns in the 2022 season, Williams tore the ACL in his left knee in June and needed reconstructive surgery.

“Even when I got hurt, I stuck around, and they let me come to the away games and stuff, to help the team in any way possible,” Williams said. “I was going to still have the same game plan. I would share my thoughts and still learn the game. Last year, even considering the circumstances, it was still a blessing.”

Williams is back and is a full participant in the organized team activities.

“I feel good,” said Williams, who caught a short pass in the flat from rookie quarterback Michael Penix, planted his left leg and darted upfield Tuesday. “I got cleared, and I’m out there doing everything. Doing all of the movements. Things feel good.”

After playing cornerback his rookie season, the Falcons converted him to running back because of his open-field running ability.

“It was a long offseason for me,” Williams said. “It took a lot of work. With this stuff. The work is never done. I have to stay on top of my strength, my stability and things like that. I feel good out there.”

The Falcons envisioned that Williams could develop into a third-down threat.

“Right now, we’re just in a phase where we are learning the playbook,” Williams said. “Adjusting and just going out there and playing ball. I missed the whole season. Right now, it’s about the fundamentals for me.”

One thing is certain, Williams is ecstatic about the new kickoff-return rules.

“It’s more returns for me,” Williams said. “I’m extremely excited. I’m glad they are making this adjustment. I’m excited just to see how the league handles this. There are going to be a lot adjustments on the fly.”

The Falcons have tried a few of the new kickoff returns during the open portion of OTAs. They haven’t displayed any drastic variations. The play clearly is going to evolve during the regular season, with teams not showing their plans in the exhibition games.

“What I do know is that the return rate is going to be up,” Williams said. “The touchback rate was really high the last few years. I think it will be flipped. ... I think it’s good for football. It’s good for everybody, including returners.”

Some believe the return will resemble a zone-read play because the coverage team must wait until the ball is in the “landing zone.”

“I can definitely see the comparison,” Williams said. “You have a lot of guys starting on the same line, I guess, all the way down the field. So, you might find returns hitting where they are not planned to hit. There is going to be a lot of instincts and vision used. Yeah, I think it’s a good play for us.”

The Falcons elected not to re-sign kickoff returner Cordarrelle Patterson after last season. He followed former Falcons coach Arthur Smith to Pittsburgh. Williams is the top candidate to handle the punt and kickoff returns for the Falcons.

“Well, when CP was down for a couple of games in my first two seasons in ‘21 and ‘22, Avery did return (kickoffs) for us, and that’s what he did at Boise State,” Marquice Williams said. “Now, whoever we have on the roster, whoever is going to be up when we talk about the 48 (players on the game-day roster) ... we’ll have a formulated plan to put the best guys back there when it comes to our return-game situation.”

The Falcons certainly will spend extra time this offseason educating all of the players on the new rules.

“When we talked about the return game, it’s not just going to be critical for that person, that returner, there are 10 other guys helping that guy out,” Williams said.

Avery Williams was elated that Marquice Williams was retained by coach Raheem Morris.

“I’m grateful and extremely blessed,” Avery Williams said. “I was excited when I found out he was returning.”

While there is a big new rule change, the special teams will have some degree of continuity.

“He’s really had the same mindset since I got drafted,” Williams said. “It’s about the players as much as it is about the scheme. Everybody is going to have a scheme. But it’s about teaching the individuals on the team to carry out any type of scheme that we have.”

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