FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Falcons head coach Dan Quinn has said fixing the scoring offense is a top priority of the Falcons this offseason and there's one player in particular who Quinn believes can play a big role in improving this area.
That's tight end Austin Hooper, who will be entering his third season with the Falcons.
Hooper finished the season catching 49 passes for 526 yards and three touchdowns. In his rookie season in 2016, he caught 19 passes for 271 yards and three touchdowns. Every year Hooper has been with the Falcons, he's improved, so there's no reason to believe he won't do the same in Year 3.
Quinn often talks about the jump a player can make in their game from Year 2 to Year 3, and he's hopeful Hooper will do just that.
And the Falcons will continue to rely on Hooper as they try and get their scoring offense to the place they'd like it to be. The Falcons averaged 22.1 points per game, which was 15th in the league.
"I do," Quinn said when asked if Hooper can help fix the scoring offense. "The reason I say that is because when you get down in the red zone, coverages change because you aren't defending so much of the field anymore. So where do the tight ends fit into that? Because sometimes there will be special coverage that goes to Julio [Jones] and how do you take care of the back? Somebody is getting a matchup that you might like to create. Often times, tight ends are guys that can run a seem route that have enough length to go out jump a safety to go get it or a linebacker. That's the stress that you can often put on a safety or a linebacker."
At 6-foot-3, 254 pounds, Hooper has the physical traits to be a red zone weapon for Atlanta. He's proven to be a good route runner and gets off his breaks, with the ability to be an asset in the run game and pass game.
With Jones garnering so much attention in the red zone, that presents more opportunities for players like Hooper. And the Falcons are going to do everything they can to help ensure Hooper and Ryan get the reps they need to cash in on those opportunities when they present themselves.
"[There are going to be times where] Matt's going to put the ball in a spot that only Hoop can turn and catch it back shoulder," Quinn said. "They spend a lot of time working those specific skills together and we're going to add even more of that in practice time together."
But Hooper and Ryan aren't waiting for the season to roll around to address this area. According to ESPN's Vaughn McClure, Hooper skipped his vacation this offseason to get more practice time with Ryan as he starts to throw again.
Hooper knows the expectations of him in the upcoming year and he's already putting in the work to ensure he makes the most of his opportunities.