Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter runs through the new options for team in 2020. (Video by D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC)

Dirk Koetter plots how to deploy Todd Gurley, other new Falcons weapons 

While the Falcons defense received the bulk of the offseason attention, offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter is interested to see his new offense weapons, especially running back Todd Gurley. 

When the coronavirus pandemic restrictions are lifted, Koetter will get a better assessment of Gurley’s health and how much of the workload he can handle. The Falcons signed the former NFL offensive player of the year in free agency after he played five mostly spectacular seasons with the Rams. 

“He has had an unbelievable career and is a heck of a player,” Koetter said on a video conference call Thursday. “I think it’s also really fortunate for us that he’s coming from a really similar offensive system, terminology-wise. The run game is very similar conceptually to what they were doing in L.A.” 

Gurley was a fan favorite when he played at the University of Georgia. 

“I know from talking to Todd that he’s fired up to be coming back to Georgia,” Koetter said. “He can do everything. He’s an excellent running back. He can protect. The main question is that no one seems to know is, what’s his health status? What’s his workload?”

Koetter studied how the Rams used Gurley, who has an arthritic left knee, last season. 

“He averaged about 17 touches a game last year,” Koetter said. “Which is a little bit lower than he’d been when he was All-Pro. We are just going to have to find that out once he gets here. Get him up and running.”

Gurley has been in California since the nation went into shelter-in-place and self-distancing guidelines to battle the coronavirus pandemic. The Falcons have a clause in the contract that requires him to pass the team’s physical.

Normally, the free agent would have come to the team facility to take his physical and then sign the contract. 

Koetter is fine with the backups behind Gurley. 

“Ito (Smith) is coming off of injury,” Koetter said. “I thought Brian Hill and Qadree (Ollison) did a nice job of filling the roles they were asked to play last year. To their credit, they want more. They want bigger roles, and that’s what they should do, come in and compete for those bigger roles. Ito was playing well up until the time that he got hurt.”

Koetter believes the Falcons will be just fine at running back. 

“When the guys get back, we’ll figure it out,” Koetter said.

Also, the Falcons picked up tight end Hayden Hurst in a trade with the Ravens. They sent a second-round pick to the Ravens, which they used to draft Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins. 

Hurst will attempt to replace two-time Pro Bowl-alternate Austin Hooper, who signed with Cleveland In free agency. 

“We lost a really good player in Austin Hooper,” Koetter said. “I think Hayden is going to be a real nice fit here.”

Hurst was a first-pick pick (25th overall) in the 2018 draft by the Ravens and caught a career-high 30 passes last season.  

“He was playing in a run-heavy offense in Baltimore, and that worked well for them,” Koetter said. “I think the skill set that Hayden brings, and I know that from talking to him, he’s anxious to get with Matt Ryan and fit in with our guys.”

The Falcons also signed wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, a former first-round pick (23rd overall) by the Vikings in 2016. 

Treadwell, who starred at Mississippi in the SEC, played in 53 games and made 16 starts for the Vikings. He had a career-high 35 catches for 302 yards and a touchdown in 2018. 

“Treadwell had very high expectations coming out of college,” Koetter said. “He was playing with some other good wideouts at Minnesota and maybe didn’t get as many targets as he would have liked. 

“What he does have, he has size and really good hands. We have a strong wide-receiver group already. I know that Laquon is talking to (wide receivers) coach (Dave) Brock in the virtual meetings and he’s excited about … sometimes guys just need a change of scenery.”

Koetter knows that having all of the new shiny weapons will not matter if the offensive line play doesn’t improve. Last season, the Falcons gave up 50 sacks and 135 quarterback hits and the run-game was stuffed -- a loss or no gain -- on 21% of the running plays. 

Having a healthy Chris Lindstrom at right guard will help as Falcons try to get the best five linemen on the field. 

“Usually guys take a big jump in their second year,” Koetter said. “Unfortunately, Chris was doing great, and he gets hurt in the first game. He worked hard to come back and play at the end. Excited about Chris. Just as excited as we were a year ago.”

Koetter said the Falcons thought that Kaleb McGary would struggle in pass protection at right tackle, and he did. McGary led the league by giving up 13 sacks. 

“He was given some things to work on in the offseason,” Koetter said. “Kaleb is having to do some work on his own. Now that Kaleb has been through a regular season, has a better feel for the guys he’s going against and what it’s going to take. (We feel) that he’s going to take a big jump as well.”

Rookie Matt Hennessy, who was taken in the third round of the draft, will get a chance to compete at left guard after starring at center in college.

“If he’s up on game day, he’s going to have to be ready to play both,” Koetter said. “If something happens to (center) Alex (Mack) he might be the next center in. Between him and (Justin) McCray, you have to have more than one center. You like to have three guys who can snap the ball and function at center.”

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