FLOWERY BRANCH — In order for the Falcons’ offense to soar under new coordinator Dirk Koetter, Pro Bowl wide receiver Roddy White figures that he must do less.
“I know that sounds crazy, but we’ve got other guys out there that can play,” White said. “Julio [Jones] is going to be a big part of the offense this year. Harry [Douglas] is going to do wonders in the slot. We have to maximize our talent and get the ball in everyone’s hands.”
White, a three-time Pro Bowler, has been the most productive wide receiver in the NFL over the past two seasons in terms of receptions. He led the NFL with 115 catches in 2010 and was second with 100 in 2011.
White, who’s set to enter his eighth season, became the eighth player in NFL history with five consecutive seasons with at least 80 catches and 1,000 yards receiving in 2011. He also led the league with 15 dropped passes in 2011.
For the offense — which was ranked 10th in the league last season (376.6 yards per game) — to be more prolific under Koetter, White figures they must diversify.
Under former coordinator Mike Mularkey, who left to become Jacksonville’s head coach, the offense leaned heavily on White and running back Michael Turner.
The unit tested some of the new concepts against the team’s defense in non-contact organized team activities Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
“We switched some things up,” White said. “We are doing the things [Koetter] likes to do. He’s a smart guy, and he knows what we do best.”
Koetter is tailoring the offense to fit his players’ skills.
“[Koetter’s] been watching film, and he knows how to get the ball into our hands,” White said. “He wants to get it to us quick, make people miss and then get after guys like that.”
Koetter has been an early hit in the locker room.
“He’s a lot calmer and relaxed guy,” White said. “But he’s intense on the football field. He does a lot of talking to us back there in the huddle, and he’s a funny guy. He tells jokes and things to keep everybody loose. We need a guy like that around here.”
White said you can expect to see more five-receiver formations from the Falcons under Koetter.
“There will be a lot of wide receivers out there, tight ends and things like that,” White said. “We’re going to try to get the ball to the backs in the screen game. We are going to try to get it in everybody’s hands.”
Turner has more than 300 carries in three of the past four seasons. Smith has stated that Turner’s carries will be more closely monitored in the new attack.
“[Koetter] wants to throw the ball more this year,” White said. “We still have Michael Turner and he’s a great running back, but we have so many weapons at the skill positions. We’ve got to find a way to get everybody the ball and keep everybody happy.”
White is not the only one with high expectations for Jones in the new attack.
“He’s just going to continue to get better and better,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said. “I thought he had a great season last year, and we anticipate the maturation process to continue.”
With the more diversified attack, teams will no longer key on White and Turner to stifle the offense. The new approach could lead to more big plays in the vertical passing attack.
The Falcons had 67 plays (11 runs, 56 passes) that gained 20 yards or more, which ranked tied for 13th in the league last season. Carolina led the league with 90 explosive plays.
“We missed like 15 of them,” White said.
White has noticed that quarterback Matt Ryan’s passes have a little bit more zip on them after a ramped-up offseason weight lifting and conditioning program.
“He throws it a little bit harder than he did last year,” White said. “He’s done a lot in the offseason, he’s been working out since February, so there really wasn’t a break for him.”
The offense likely needed some sprucing up. The unit, with five former or current Pro Bowlers, was blanked by the New York Giants’ rugged defense in the 24-2 wild-card playoff loss Jan. 8. The defense scored the lone points on a safety.
For Ryan, the goal of the new offense is simple.
“We’ve done some good things, but we really haven’t been great at anything,” Ryan said. “We’ve got to strive to be great at everything we do.”
Koetter’s offense, which featured a rookie quarterback and a porous receiving corps, was ranked 32nd (259.3 yards per game) in the league last season. Smith and Koetter were the coordinators in Jacksonville for the 2007 season.
–D. Orlando Ledbetter, The Atlanta Falcons beat blog