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Dirk Koetter: “No one seems to know” Todd Gurley’s health, Falcons run game needs to improve

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The Falcons OC says the quiet part out loud.

Los Angeles Rams v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

The Falcons have been pretty upbeat about Todd Gurley since the moment they signed him. You have to be when you’re selling the fanbase on a guy, not that Gurley needed a ton of selling. His production, his deep Atlanta ties and status as a living UGA legend, and the fact that he’s just 25 years old all conspire to make him a deeply popular pickup for most fans. The only obstacle to universal celebration for the signing is his health.

The bottom line is that Todd Gurley has arthritis in his knees. That caused the Rams to handle him with kid gloves in 2019, and while I think they definitely mismanaged him, the status of his knees is the #1 reason I’m leery of the signing. The Falcons haven’t been able to give him a physical despite the signing, so there are unknowns, but for obvious reasons they’ve been publicly confident he’ll be fine.

Of course they’re still concerned about the knee—they’d be fools not to be—but they’re not going to say that out loud. Well, most of the organization isn’t, anyways. Dirk Koetter decided to blow that out today.

On one hand, this is admirable honesty from Koetter, who spoke of Gurley’s speed and power and elusiveness when he’s at his best as reasons to be excited for his arrival in Atlanta. There’s no particular reason for him to sugarcoat this because he doesn’t know, he’s not paying Gurley’s salary, and he’s got to be realistic about how he’ll build his ground game if Gurley is a limited player in 2020. Koetter would obviously love to have a healthy Gurley tearing things up, as he alluded to the team’s need to improve the ground game significantly and target a minimum number of carries, though he wisely avoided saying that number to avoid being peppered with questions all season long when the offense inevitably does not hit that number.

On the other hand, this is a striking admission from the guy who is going to be responsible for utilizing Gurley in this offense. The Falcons clearly saw an opportunity to buy relatively low on an elite talent and a guy who a huge portion of the fanbase was going to love, but they are no more certain of how Gurley’s knee is going to hold up than any of us. For a team with plenty of bodies but only one potential feature back currently on the roster, that’s kind of a terrifying thought.

In the interest of fairness, let me add team reporter Kelsey Conway’s response to my concerns here:

Even if you overlook Koetter’s direct response on health and just focus on workload, I’m personally not reassured by that. Your mileage may vary. Gurley has the talent to be the guy in Atlanta and is being paid as though he will be the lead back by a healthy margin. If there are questions about his workload, that’s a tacit admission that the Falcons are concerned he won’t have a full one in 2020, which in turn means they’ll need to rely more heavily on Ito (who I think is very much up to it), Hill (up in the air in Koetter’s offense), and Ollison (unproven but still a guy I like). Given how ineffective the ground game was a year ago, I’m not exactly enthused about any of this.

Until the team gets more insight his his “health status,” as Koetter put it, the reality is that Gurley’s usage and effectiveness in 2020 will be up in the air. Koetter’s bluntness in that regard is not exactly reassuring for us or for him, but we’ll hope all this offseason fretting is for naught when the games begin.