<
>

Devonta Freeman already bonding with 'flexible' OC Steve Sarkisian

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Two-time Pro Bowler Devonta Freeman has a new offensive coordinator in Steve Sarkisian, but the Atlanta Falcons running back already has a comfort level as if he's been around Sarkisian for years.

"Definitely a players' coach," Freeman said of Sarkisian. "The thing I like about him is he's very flexible with every guy on the team -- the whole coaching staff is. If it's something that we have a problem running, we can go to him and talk to him about it and explain [it]. And I believe that if it's a good enough reason, he'll let us do it our way. ... I definitely think he's going to put us in the best situation to have success."

The Falcons brought in the 43-year-old Sarkisian, with no previous NFL coordinator experience, to replace new San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan. The Falcons plan to maintain the same offensive system coming off a season where Matt Ryan was named the MVP and the offense led the league with 33.8 points per game.

The biggest offensive change is expected to be a new starting right guard following the retirement of veteran Chris Chester, with Wes Schweitzer, Ben Garland, and perhaps rookie Sean Harlow competing for the spot. The Falcons will maintain the outside-zone blocking scheme Shanahan implemented, a system that relies on offensive linemen who can get out and run to pave holes for Freeman and the running backs.

"I think it's going to be pretty much the same thing," Freeman said of the offense under Sarkisian. "A few tweaks here and there, but the majority of the same play calls, the same offense."

Last season, the Falcons lined up in 11 personnel (one back, one tight end, three wide receivers) for 437 snaps, an alignment likely to be utilized most once again this coming season.

Since not much is expected to change schematically, the biggest thing to watch is Sarkisian's play-calling and how aggressive he might be in certain situations. Being aggressive didn't work so much in the Falcons' favor the last time out.

It certainly helps to have a smart quarterback in Ryan, who has the ability to change a play call and the freedom to call the shots in the two-minute drill.