FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – We've heard it all offseason and Matt Ryan echoed a similar sentiment on Monday – the Falcons have big plans for how they plan to utilize their running backs in both the running and passing game this season.
Atlanta's backfield features Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, two players who have proven to be reliable weapons for Ryan. And by the looks of it, it's likely they'll see even more targets coming their way.
"We want to make sure we are really featuring [Tevin] and Devonta in as many ways as we can," head coach Dan Quinn said this offseason. "Splitting them outside, leaving them in the backfield, the amount of catches and touches that we can get for those guys, we know how explosive they are."
Here's a look at just how valuable Freeman and Coleman can be as receivers. Since 2015, the duo has caught 223 passes for 2,091 yards. Here's the breakdown:
Freeman: 163 catches for 1,357 yards
Coleman: 60 catches for 734 yards
As offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian enters his second season, he says his comfort level with the personnel is "night and day" in comparison to this time last year. With a year under his belt, Sarkisian knows each of his players' strengths and has a better understanding of how he wants to feature them – including guys like Freeman and Coleman.
"In Year 2, I have a year in the system," Sarkisian said. "Now I can make some of the tweaks that I feel like are needed for this offense to continue to grow. I've got a really good understanding of every player – and the things that they're really good at, the things that they maybe need to work on, and things that I would be wrong in putting them in position to do."
Freeman and Coleman have both said since the spring that they've seen the emphasis the coaching staff has put on getting them more involved in this part of the game.
At the beginning of practice on Monday, Ryan and the rest of the quarterbacks spent a period of time working with just the running backs.
"They're both really good receivers," Ryan said. "They've showcased that during their careers. I think they are continuing to get better. They work on it all the time. They have a better understanding of route concepts and how things work. Understanding how to beat man-to-man coverage, getting their feet underneath them to be able to break defenders off. They naturally do it well but they work at it too. I think they're better than they've ever been and I think both of those guys are going to have great years for us."
Although we likely won't see the new wrinkles Sarkisian has put in the offense until Week 1, it's become more and more clear that we'll be seeing more of Freeman and Coleman catching the ball, not just running.
And that's a good thing.