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'The No. 1 thing is they're a good group that really compliments each other': Barrett Ruud on the versatility of Falcons inside linebackers

Ruud joined Raheem Morris' staff a couple weeks ago, he's since done his homework on the players he'll inherit, namely Kaden Elliss, Troy Andersen and Nate Landman. 

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Like other coaches on Raheem Morris' staff, Barrett Ruud and Morris have crossed paths at one point or another in their careers.

Offensive coordinator Zac Robinson's Los Angeles office was right across the hall from Morris' when the two were with the Rams organization for the last three seasons. Defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake was the assistant defensive backs coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when Morris was the position's main coach in 2007.

For every coach on Morris' Atlanta staff that has coached with him, there's actually a couple who have played for him, namely Ruud and wide receivers coach Ike Hilliard. Ruud and Hilliard played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the time Morris was the defensive backs coach and, later, the head coach. Ruud said the Morris who stands before him now as the Atlanta Falcons head coach is pretty similar to the one he met more than 15 years ago.

"Honestly, he's the same person," Ruud said, now joining Morris' Falcons staff as the inside linebackers coach. "... He had a ton of charisma back then, even as an assistant DBs coach back in 2005 when I first met him and, honestly, he's the same person. He's older and wiser now. He's 47, and he was 32 when he took over the head coaching job down there, but as far as the communication, the charisma, being a guy who just brightens up the room, that part hasn't changed."

Ruud has been coaching in the college ranks since retiring from the professional game after the 2012 season. He was the inside linebackers coach for Nebraska -- his alma mater -- from 2018-22. When Morris gave him a call to join the Falcons staff, it was a full-circle moment for the former player-coach duo.

"It was always kind of a goal to get back and work underneath him as a coach," Ruud said of Morris. "Now that I have a chance to do that, I'm thrilled."

Ruud takes over an intriguing inside linebacker room in 2024. It's one that includes Kaden Elliss on the second year of a three-year contract, Troy Andersen coming off a season-ending pectoral injury in 2023 and Nate Landman, an undrafted free agent from Colorado who stepped up and surprised a few in Andersen's absence.

If there's one thing Ruud can see when he looks at this group -- it's potential -- and a lot of it.

He's done his homework on these guys, too. He's even gotten an up-close-and-personal look at Landman, who Ruud said basically "won the game for Colorado" when the Cornhuskers faced Landman and the Buffalos in 2018 when Ruud coached at Nebraska.

"The No. 1 thing is they're a good group that really compliments each other, and they all have unique skill sets," Ruud explained. "Troy is probably the highest-end athlete. He can really run. (He's) big, strong, fast. Has all the measurables. Kaden is probably the most versatile where he can rush the passer, he can play at the line of scrimmage, he's really comfortable on third down. Nate is kind of more of the old-school, box, throwback linebacker.

"All three of those guys bring a different skill set and they all played well this last year."


A second thing Ruud can see when he looks at this group? It's youth and versatility.

OK, so Elliss is a bit of a veteran in the league, yes. He's on his second contract after all. But the way Ruud sees it, Elliss is actually fairly green playing the position to the breadth he did in 2023 under then-defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen.

Elliss was a core special teams player in his early days with the New Orleans Saints. It wasn't until the 2022 season that he made a name for himself at inside linebacker, and even then, Ruud added, he was up on the line of scrimmage in a Sam role more than he was extensively playing off the ball as he did in his first year with the Falcons in 2023.

"So, even though he's a little bit of an older player, he's got a lot of room to improve, and same thing with Troy and Nate, they're young players," Ruud said. "The No. 1 thing is just continuing to develop (their) overall game.

"... And hey, you have to be as versatile as you can in this league. I think that's where it's kind of trending: How many things can you do? It's not just, 'I play linebacker.' Well, can you rush the passer? Can you play man coverage? Can you affect the game in a different way?"

Ruud feels like with the three players he knows he'll have in 2024, they already have a baseline and foundation in that versatility. It's now about expanding that foundation upwards.

"I know Troy got hurt early on, but they were productive (as a group)," Ruud said. "The biggest thing you can ask for in this business is to be productive."

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