Dirk Koetter relied on QB Matt Ryan last year during his first season as the Falcons’ offensive coordinator, but Koetter is becoming more comfortable calling plays on his own entering his second season in Atlanta.
FLOWERY BRANCH — Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter finally feels like he’s in full control of his operation.
Koetter, entering his second season with the team, will call the plays and direct the offense during the Falcons’ three-day mandatory minicamp — which began Tuesday — at the team facilities in Flowery Branch.
“Matt (Ryan) was teaching me the playbook last year. So we don’t have to spend as much time on that because I know what I’m doing, and Matt doesn’t have to teach me,” Koetter quipped while sitting on the patio overlooking the practice fields recently.
Koetter served five years as Jacksonville’s coordinator before taking over the Falcons offense last year. Instead of bringing in new plays and terminology, he tweaked the attack and let Ryan teach him the old terminology.
He adapted to his players instead of making them adapt to him.
“When you’re in the quarterback meeting room, there are definitely different levels,” Koetter said. “Matt has already got his Ph. D.”
That move went a long ways in garnering the respect of Ryan and the other players on offense.
“We worked really hard last offseason to try and get to know each other professionally as well as we could,” Ryan said. “We tried to get a feel for each other. I think that really benefited us last season.”
Koetter clearly didn’t try to fix something that wasn’t broken. He added some screen passes and scheduled the linemen for more work on blocking in the open field. While the running game sputtered along, some crafty play-calling and timely downfield passes led to improvements.
The Falcons finished seventh out of 32 NFL teams in scoring at 26.2 points per game. They were also seventh (25.1 points) under former coordinator Mike Mularkey in 2011.
They finished eighth in total yards (369.1) after finishing 10th (376.6 yards) in 2011. The rushing game dipped from 17th (114.6 yards in 2011) to 29th at 87.3 yards per game last season. The passing attack improved two spots from eighth (262 yards) to sixth (281.8).
Ryan believes the bond he formed with Koetter will benefit the team.
“I feel like our relationship is even better this year,” Ryan said. “We both have an understanding of what the other is all about and how we operate. I think that’s going to serve us well moving forward.”
The Falcons were 13-3 last season and reached the NFC championship game. Koetter has now directed two offenses into the playoffs. He had a playoff win with Jacksonville after the 2007 season.
The fact that they been through a season and two vicious playoff battles should also help.
“You know what the grind of a season together is like,” Ryan said. “He’s the guy you want in the bunker with you. He’s a great coach and a great guy. He’s been fun to be around. He’s a laid-back guy. That’s just his personality and demeanor.”
But, Ryan warned, don’t let Koetter’s smooth demeanor fool you.
“He’s still extremely competitive and extremely detailed,” Ryan said. “He can flip that switch and lay down the law. He can be tough, but he strikes a great balance.”
Koetter’s major project this offseason is to incorporate running back Steven Jackson into the system while the front line is being revamped. He also must groom Dominique Davis as the No. 2 quarterback.
“Glenn Thomas, the quarterbacks coach, myself and Matt, we have a lot of different conversations going on at the same time,” Koetter said. “But I think you still have to teach to your top players. So, we are always -- Matt, myself and Glenn in those meetings -- we’re always working on how we can get Matt better. But we still have to bring those young guys along too.”
While Koetter and Ryan will oversee the offense during minicamp, Falcons coach Mike Smith will fixate on rookie cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford. They were drafted in the first and second rounds and are expected to make immediate contributions.
“When they practice against Julio (Jones), Roddy (White), Harry (Douglas) and even Drew Davis and Kevin Cone, it challenges them because, for the most part, those are big and physical guys,” Smith said. “That’s where they really are going to have to work on their matchups.”
Also, the rookies must adjust to the pro rules.
“You’re not going to be able to contact (the receivers) after five yards,” Smith said. “They are going to have to really use their athleticism and both of those guys are very athletic.”
Banks accuser loses case: The Long Beach Unified School District won a $2.6 million default judgment against a woman whose false rape allegation in 2002 cost the school district money and landed current Falcon Brian Banks, then a student, in jail.
Although Wanetta Gibson has not appeared in court throughout the proceedings and her whereabouts were not known, the ruling allows the school district to recoup the money through her future wages and property.
Gibson was a student at Long Beach Poly High when she first sued the district for having lax security and an unsafe environment after she accused Banks, a promising football star, of rape.
Gibson later recanted the rape claim on tape, paving the way for Banks’ exoneration of the charge after he had already served more than five years in prison.