Falcons’ Austin Hooper looking to build on breakthrough season

The Falcons tight end is looking to build off Pro Bowl season.

Falcons tight end Austin Hooper has returned to work with plans to follow-up his breakthrough Pro Bowl season.

Last season, Hooper was one of the lone bright spots as he caught 71 passes for 660 yards and four touchdowns, all career-highs.

“It’s good to get back in the building and see everybody,” Hooper said after working out Wednesday. “We can kind of talk lightly about our goals and our expectations this year.”

With the rash of season-ending injuries, the Falcons were 7-9 and finished in third place in the NFC South last season. Most of the players reported for “phase one” of the offseason program Monday.

After bumpy start to his career, Hooper started to smooth out his game last season. He started off his offseason by relaxing.

“You just kind of understand how to allocate your time better,” Hooper said. “You don’t necessarily train two weeks after the season. You actually let your body heal for a little bit and then when you are ready, you go hard.

“You don’t just constantly train. You give your body as much rest as it needs.”

In part of the shake-up of the coaching staff, the Falcons replaced tight ends coach Wade Harman with Mike Mularkey. Hooper looks forward to working with his new position coach.

“He kind of outlined his expectations for me, individually, and our tight end group, collectively,” Hooper said. “I’m just excited to learn from him. He brings two, three decades worth of experience in the National Football League as a player and a coach.”

Mularkey has been a head coach for Buffalo, Jacksonville and Tennessee. He was the Falcons’ offensive coordinator from 2008-11.  He also played tight end in the NFL with the Vikings and Steelers from 1983-91.

“I’m just going to try to be a sponge and absorb as much as I can,” Hooper said.

In addition to Hooper, the Falcons brought back tight end Logan Paulsen and signed blocking tight end Luke Stocker in free agency.

“Logan and Luke are like Year 9,” Hooper said. “They both bring experience and veteran savvy to the room. They are a great resource for myself and some of the younger tight ends who have questions on how to approach or do certain things.”

Hooper worked out relentlessly with quarterback Matt Ryan last offseason.

“Yes, I plan to work with Matt after OTAs,” Hooper said. “I plan on working with him throughout this seven- or eight-week period, and we will continue to solidify that timing relationship that is between a quarterback and a route-runner.”

The Falcons haven’t let on much, but with the bigger size of the four offensive linemen they signed in free agency, they are making some changes. Also, there is a major change coming in the passing attack.

“With this offense, it’s more steps-based than instead of depth-based,” Hooper said.

Ryan, who played under new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter from 2012-14, will help Hooper with the transition.

“He gave me a little bit of insight,” Hooper said. “We were tossing the ball around in So Cal (Southern California). We weren’t going into it too deep.

“But he gave me the insight from a route-running perspective in terms of what to expect.”

Hooper gave an example of the change.

“On route X, I might have my inside foot up and I know once my third foot on my outside leg hits, I break,” Hooper said. “Just certain little things. Instead of being depth-based, it’s all steps-based now. It’s something new that I haven’t done before. I just have to work with Matt.

“He’s been awesome and patient. I’ve never been in a step-based system. I might not sound like a big difference.”

Hooper, who caught a 20-yard touchdown pass in the Pro Bowl, enjoyed his all-star game experience.

“I’m going to be honest with you, when we were at the Pro Bowl, we weren’t talking about football a whole lot,” Hooper said. “We were hanging out by the pool and staying hydrated in that Florida heat.”

He did chat with Saints tight end Jared Cook, the former North Gwinnett High and South Carolina star, and 49ers tight end George Kittle.

“He brings a tremendous amount of experience to the position,” Hooper said of Cook. “As an older guy, to be such an honest and open resource for me, is a guy who I’d never even met, I thought was pretty cool.”

Hooper, who caught a 19-yard touchdown pass as a rookie in Super Bowl LI, said it’s been a long and hard climb for him to Pro Bowl status.

“It’s a tough position,” Hooper said. “There are a lot of different facets to the position. Me as a rookie, I wasn’t given, you’re just going to work on ‘X.’ Just worry about ‘X.’ ...

“I had to learn it all at once. It’s a lot. It’s a difficult position to learn. The more times you do it, you’ll get better at it. You have no idea want to expect.”

Now, Hooper plans to keep on moving forward.

“The nature of the position is crazy,” Hooper said. “You either have to block someone that is 40 pounds heavier than you or either outrun someone that’s 40 pounds lighter than you. Everything you did in college doesn’t necessarily translate at all.”

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