Fans typically do not hear from coordinators. They may hop in front of the media a few times per year to give some general, uninteresting answers. So when Dirk Koetter joined former Falcons offensive line coach Mike Tice on his podcast Odds and Ends with Mike Tice, it seemed like there would not be much newsworthy there.
Instead, Koetter covered every single offensive position group, dipping into camp battles, depth charts, and highlighting some important names. We covered the running back news earlier because it is probably the most interesting roster battle on the team.
Backup Falcons quarterback has underwent some criticism, as the 38-year-old player played some unimpressive football during the Hall of Fame game. He was followed by impressive Kurt Benkurt before his season-ending injury.
Koetter talked about what he’s looking for in a backup.
“I think people forgot that Matt Schaub was a heck of a quarterback in this league. Back in the old days when we were coaching in Jacksonville, they were rolling down in Houston with Matt Schaub at the quarterback. He’s getting up there in age a little bit but he’s been in the system for over 10 years, this Shanahan-based system.”
It’s notable that Koetter still considers this a “Shanahan-based system,” especially after the team added some gigantic offensive linemen. New guard Jamon Brown is 340 pounds, replacing the comparatively svelte 303-pound Andy Levitre.
Koetter said he was very excited about Kurt Benkert but sounds very sold on Schaub as Ryan’s backup. Both Tice and Koetter talked about Schaub being a great resource in the film room, and was impressed by his performance in week 1 after a shaky Hall of Fame Game. Both Tice and Koetter agreed that due to limited practice reps, they like veteran quarterbacks compared to a developmental quarterback.
Koetter is unsurprisingly very high on Calvin Ridley entering his sophomore season, but calls Mohamed Sanu the most underrated wide receiver on the team. “He’s got size. He can play inside. He can play outside. Extremely smart. Great hands. Every team needs that receiver that can not only run the options and the choice routes but can do the dirty work and go in there and block the support players on runs.”
While going through the wide receivers, Koetter highlights Russell Gage and Christian Blake as both impressing. “Both of those guys can really run. You always need some young receivers in the pipeline that are coming up. Julio’s not going to be going out there every player. He’s not going to be practicing everyday. When he’s out, you need a guy who can be in there and be ready to go. Russell Gage and Christian Blake are battling for those fourth and fifth spots.”
Koetter noted that Gage is a great gunner on returns and plays a lot on special teams. He mentioned Justin Hardy as versatile on offense and producing on special teams but it sounds like he’s getting pushed out of the top wide receiver spots. Hardy signed a one-year deal with only $90,000 guaranteed, so his roster spot is far from guaranteed.
Koetter gushed about Austin Hooper, saying he’s “too athletic for a linebacker. He’s too big for a safety.” He talked up Hooper’s size, speed, and the work he’s done with Matt Ryan in the offseason. Hooper spent a lot of offseason time with Ryan in 2018 and it paid off. Koetter loves Hooper’s fit in tight end heavy sets as a receiving option on likely running downs. Tice says teams can get “very explosive” on those packages, suggesting Hooper might get a focus there.
Koetter is unsurprisingly excited about Jake Matthews and Alex Mack, saying Matthews has “grown up” and gotten bigger and stronger since Tice and Koetter coached him in 2014. Chris Lindstrom is “going to be an excellent pro.” He described Kaleb McGary as dealing with “a little setback” but said he expects McGary to be back “soon.” He said McGary came in strong and was having a good camp before surgery, and described the right tackle spot as still ongoing.
Koetter highlighted the newest guards: “We got a lot bigger inside. The Falcons the last few years have been know as a team with smaller, quicker guards. We wanted to get firmer and more powerful up front. Thomas Dimitroff and coach Quinn did that.” Lindstrom is the unquestioned starter at right guard
He said, “We’ve got a battle going on at left guard.” Similar to the right tackle competition, it looks like the ultimate winner was picked weeks ago due to injuries.