It's been no secret that the Falcons plan to increase Tevin Coleman's workload during the 2016 season. Coleman was named the starter heading into last season, but injuries and Devonta Freeman's breakout season forced Coleman to take more of a complementary role.
Dan Quinn's mantra since being hired as the Falcons head coach in 2015 has been "fast and physical" and as we all know, Tevin Coleman is one of the fastest players on the team. Throughout Coleman's rookie season, he appeared to trust his speed just a little too much and showed a lack of patience in Kyle Shanahan's zone heavy runnning scheme.
What allowed Devonta Freeman to thrive last season was his patience and footwork under pressure as the defense was strung out to the sideline on outside zone plays. Coleman hasn't shown that level of nuance yet, but he has the speed and physical upside that Freeman doesn't naturally possess.
Last season, Tevin Coleman's most productive plays came when Kyle Shanahan switched from zone plays to gap plays that allowed Coleman to get up the field in a hurry and take advantage of that 4.3 speed.
Here's an example of that from the Falcons' game against the Giants early in the season. This is an example of an "iso" block where the linebacker playside is unaccounted for by the offensive line and allows the fullback a clean lane to run full speed to the second level.
With the left tackle, left guard, center, and right guard working to the backside (where they get four blockers on four defenders), all Coleman has to do is explode past DiMarco blocking the middle linebacker and it's a ten yard gain. For a runner with easy speed like Coleman, these are the plays where he can easily attack the defense for chunks of yardage at a time.
Here's another example of a gap play that the Falcons ran to get Coleman running up the field in a hurry. The difference between these plays and the outside zone plays the Falcons usually run are the presence of multiple double teams along the offensive line.
The double teams on the defensive tackles created a crease for Coleman to slice through the middle of the offensive line for a near touchdown. The reads for the running back on these plays are simple, and for a running back who (at times) can run with blinders on.
It's hard to put a projection on Tevin Coleman's 2016 season without seeing him play in the preseason, but he needs to take strides with his patience and vision on outside zone plays.
As Coleman arrives at Ryan Schraeder's left hip an opportunity arises to "bend" the run back inside towards the midfield logo, but he tries to barrel upfield behind Mike Person where he's tackled for a short gain.
One of the strong points of outside zone is that the running back doesn't necessarily need to have elite patience and vision if the offensive tackles and tight ends can reach and seal defenders on the perimeter. When the perimeter blocking and timing is perfect, Coleman can make plays along the sideline with his tremendous speed.
Here's an example from the same Colts game.
Once Levine Toilolo and Patrick DiMarco take care of Erik Walden on the edge, it's smooth sailing for a ten yard gain. If there's an area to nitpick here, he could've been a little bit more patience as Toilolo runs in front of the safety. However, explosive runs were a missing element to the offense as the run game withered towards the end of the season.
Having an improved offensive line will work wonders for Coleman too. The Falcons biggest free agent splash was signing free agent center Alex Mack from the Cleveland Browns. Personally, I didn't think Mike Person was a terrible blocker, but there's no denying that Mack is a tremendous upgrade from what Person offers. Allowing Person to slide over to his natual position of right guard and compete for the starting position with Chris Chester will also bolster the offensive line.
Stepping away from inconsistent patience and vision, the biggest area of weakness for Coleman was his inability to contribute as a receiver. Devonta Freeman was so dynamic catching the football that it was difficult to justify giving those reps to Coleman, but he struggled mightly as a receiver.
Coleman was targeted 11 times in 2015 and only converted two of those targets into catches for 14 yards. It's been clear through five training camp practices that Atlanta wants to get him more involved in the receiving game and he appears to have stepped up to the challenge.
Tevin Coleman been strong catching the ball too— vaughn mcclure (@vxmcclure23) July 31, 2016
Falcons RB Tevin Coleman determined to keep tight hold on more opportunities. https://t.co/zrMJFNe8DH— vaughn mcclure (@vxmcclure23) August 2, 2016
If Coleman can improve his vision on zone plays, remain potent on gap plays, and reduce his fumbling rate (3 fumbles on 89 touches) he can be a force in Atlanta's offense.
If Coleman can remain healthy and hold onto the ball, he should be a safe bet for 170-200 touches on the seasons. When you have a running back like Coleman who's capable of picking up big chunks of yardage, or taking it the distance outright, it becomes a priority to get the football in his hands. With a year under his belt and an improved supporting cast, Colemn has the potential to take a serious leap for the Falcons this season.