Editor’s note: This is the seventh of an eight-part position-by-position series analyzing the Falcons’ roster before they report for training camp. The rookies reported Tuesday and the veterans July 26.
FLOWERY BRANCH -- It was no surprise that the Falcons elected to part ways with running back Mike Davis over the offseason.
During the season, he lost his position as the top running back when the team turned to wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. While Patterson had his moments, the Falcons could muster only 85.4 yards rushing per game, which ranked 31st of 32 teams in the NFL. The Falcons averaged only 3.69 yards per carry, which ranked 30th overall.
“We’ll continue to try to enhance Patterson’s role in certain spots there,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
With the hopes of at least returning the running game to respectability, the Falcons re-signed Patterson and Qadree Ollison, signed veteran Damien Williams, drafted Tyler Allgeier in the fifth round and converted cornerback Avery Williams to running back.
“We’ve got Tyler Allgeier, who we drafted,” Smith said. “I want to see what Caleb Huntley can do. Don’t be surprised if you see Avery Williams in the mix back there in a different kind of role at running back. We’ve got Qadree Ollison. We’ll continue to look to add there, too. Damien Williams, I’m excited about. (We’ve got) guys with different skill sets.”
The move of Avery Williams is intriguing.
“You go back and you watch the college career,” special-teams coordinator Marquice Williams said. “The decision-making as a ballcarrier. The ball security. The vision. All of those things.”
Avery Williams was a returner for Boise State and was electric in the open field. Last season, he was a returner and played some at cornerback.
“He has an edge to him from being a defensive player,” Marquice Williams said. “He knows the defensive aspects of the game and how defenders want to attack ballcarriers. ... I think that’s an advantage for him.”
Avery Williams, who’s 5-foot-9 and 195 pounds, returned three kickoffs and six punts for touchdowns while at Boise State.
Last season as a rookie, he played in 15 games and returned 20 punts for a 7.7 yard average per return and 23 kickoffs for a 21.3 average.
“It’s not a surprise that he’s able to make that transition,” Marquice Williams said.
With the switch at quarterback, the Falcons need a major improvement from its rushing attack.
“Regardless of who’s playing quarterback or at what level, it helps when you’re efficient (running the ball),” offensive coordinator Dave Ragone said. “I think (over) the course of our offseason and from what we did last year, realizing there were really good things on film and some things we need to clean up.”
The offensive line has to help the ballcarriers by creating more and bigger holes to run through.
“We can make ourselves better by bringing back those same guys for competition along the offensive line,” Ragone said. “You can just feel it out there, guys are playing with more confidence. They know what we are asking. Second year, again, I think confidence has grown at each position, but more importantly for the offensive line.”
Allgeier, the team’s fifth-round selection (151st overall), is a physical runner. He rushed for 2,731 yards and 36 touchdowns over the past two seasons.
He was a walk-on in 2018 and was switched to linebacker. But injuries at the running back position forced BYU to return him to his former position in 2019.
He rushed for 1,140 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2020 in the offense that was directed by former BYU quarterback Zach Wilson, who was the second player selected in the 2021 draft.
Last season, the Cougars had to lean on Allgeier, and he delivered with 1,601 yards and an FBS-leading 23 touchdowns.
First-year running backs coach Mike Pitre is fine with using a committee approach. He came over from the Bears to replace Desmond Kitchings, who left after a season to become the offensive coordinator at Virginia.
“That (competition) is wide open,” Pitre said. “That’s the part that’s fun about it, is those guys know every day they walk in the building, there’s going to be competition. That natural competition, the cream is going to rise to the top, and that’s going to make everyone in the (group) better.”
The Falcons elected to let Patterson work out on his own and held him out of mandatory minicamp. Damien Williams has been a solid backup with the Dolphins, Chiefs and Bears.
“At the end of the day, I know what my role has always been,” Williams said. “Just coming into somebody’s organization and help them get to a championship.”
Patterson led the Falcons in rushing with 618 yards and six touchdowns.
Before his season with the Bears in 2021, Pitre coached in the collegiate ranks.
“It’s been awesome, just being here with the staff,” Pitre said. “Just seeing how these guys interact with these guys as a young coach, that’s awesome because that helps me to fine-tune my craft as a coach.”
D. Orlando Ledbetter, Esq is the award-winning Atlanta Falcons beat writer for the newspaper, has been on the staff since 2003. Every day D. Orlando strives to provide inside in the Falcons and the NFL. He finds the most joy in providing insight into the team, the coaching moves, the offseason business moves, the draft and the games.