Falcons’ O-boss: Gurley durability could factor in

  • Covered Bears for seven seasons at Chicago Tribune
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  • Honorable mention, Football Writers Association of America for enterprise writing, 2002

Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter says newly acquired running back Todd Gurley can still play at a high level but added that the team is taking a wait-and-see approach regarding the health of the three-time Pro Bowler’s left knee.

Gurley, who was released by the Los Angeles Rams after five seasons, signed a one-year, $5.5 million contract with the Falcons, a deal still pending a physical. The Falcons hope the 2017 NFL Offensive Player of the Year can jump-start a run game that ranked 30th out of 32 teams last season (85.1 yards per game).

“He’s only 25 years old and he’s had two seasons where he was arguably the best running back in football,” Koetter said of Gurley. “This guy, when he’s at his best, he’s got speed, he’s got power, he can break tackles, he’s elusive, he can catch the ball out of the backfield. We’ve all seen what he can do. His accolades speak for themselves. We just have to see how healthy he is and how consistently he can do it.

“He can still do it. It’s just a matter of how often can he do it.”

The Falcons won’t need Gurley to carry the entire load. The team returns Brian Hill, Ito Smith, and Qadree Ollison in the backfield after releasing two-time Pro Bowler Devonta Freeman. Gurley said his workload in practice and games will be discussed at a later time.

Upon joining the Falcons, Gurley pointed out that his knee was surgically repaired six years ago after an ACL tear, and that he played in 15 of 16 games in 2019 despite questions about his health. Koetter noted how Gurley performed in last year’s season opener against Carolina with 97 rushing yards and an average of 6.9 yards per carry, and that the former University of Georgia star gained another 97 rushing yards against Chicago on Nov. 17.

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

“I know from talking to Todd that he’s fired up to be coming back to Georgia. He can do everything. He’s an excellent runner. He’s good in the pass game. He can protect. The main question that no one seems to know is, ‘What’s his health status? What’s his workload?’ He averaged about 17 touches a game last year, which is a little bit lower than he had been when he was All-Pro. We’re just going to have to find that out once we get here and get him working, get him up and running.”

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