Falcons special teams coach Keith Armstrong got some face time with the local media Wednesday as part of a coaching session, and gave an update on where that returner battle is.
It’s the usual suspects we’d been expecting.
Keith Armstrong mentioned Justin Hardy, Marvin Hall, Ito Smith, Isaiah Oliver as possible returners. Said Calvin Ridley would be nice but unlikely to happen.— vaughn mcclure (@vxmcclure23) June 6, 2018
So, Justin Hardy, Marvin Hall, Ito Smith and Isaiah Oliver look to be the contenders to replace Andre Roberts as the team’s primary returner.
Hall feels like the favorite with his speed, but Hardy’s got a veteran’s mind, and has performed well on special teams in the past. Smith is an intriguing option, and will get to be active on game days early in his career if he wins the job. Oliver feels like the wild card, though you wonder if his value to that corner group keeps him away from too much returning. You have to think Reggie Davis and Russell Gage will factor in here, too.
He did note elsewhere the possibility of WR Calvin Ridley manning the job is slim.
He mentioned Oliver, along with rookie LBs Foye Oluokun and Emmanuel Ellerbe, as the OTA special teams standouts thus far, signaling Oluokun out in particular.
Armstrong singled out rookies Foye Oluokun, Emmanuel Ellerbe and Isaiah Oliver as three guys who have “jumped out” so far. He says Oluokun has yet to make a mistake and “always has an answer” when asked a question. #Falcons— William McFadden (@willmcfadden) June 6, 2018
That’s mightily encouraging about Oluokun, one of the 2018 sixth rounders who could be a fixture on that unit this season, and a key reserve in the linebacking core should, knock on wood, anything happen there with injuries. He’s already had an interception this offseason in practice, and with Armstrong shining some light on the Yale alum, that bodes well for his 2018 prospects.
While you’re here, we’ll also fill you in on Armstrong’s views on the NFL’s kickoff changes. He’s “pro” new moves.
#Falcons special teams coach Keith Armstrong believes the changes to the NFL’s kickoff rules favors the return team, “I think kickoff returns are back.”— William McFadden (@willmcfadden) June 6, 2018
The league has worked to make kickoffs safer by implementing a new series of rules that will hopefully limit injuries. You can read a detailed rundown of what they all mean here.
The team’s special teams coach took a lot of flack (some deserved, some baseless) for the unit’s performance in 2018, but remember, he’s still a well-respected coach in the league, and is still quite good at his job. We’ll see if an infusion of new talent, and schematic fixes on his side of things, can get this unit back and humming in 2018.