Falcons auditioning rookie linebacker as goal-line fullback

Falcons rookie linebacker Foye Oluokun has been practicing some fullback drills this week in case the team needs him to step in and block. Vincent Carchietta/USA TODAY Sports

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The last time Foye Oluokun lined up at fullback, he was asked to clear holes for Ezekiel Elliott.

That dates to high school at John Burroughs in Ladue, Missouri. And this week, Oluokun, the Atlanta Falcons rookie linebacker and sixth-round draft pick from Yale, found himself in a fullback stance once again.

The Falcons, looking to be more efficient in scoring situations, are auditioning Oluokun as a goal-line fullback. Oluokun spent extra time following Monday's practice going through individual fullback drills with running backs coach Bernie Parmalee.

"It was interesting," Oluokun said. "I played some fullback freshman year of high school, blocking for Zeke. That was cool. But I haven't done that for a long time because I moved to wide receiver and corner and now linebacker."

Using a defensive player as a blocking fullback isn't a new concept for the Falcons. Last season, 346-pound defensive tackle Dontari Poe got some snaps on offense in goal-line situations and even cleared a few holes, kind of like William "The Refrigerator" Perry of the Chicago Bears did back in the day. Poe is now with the Carolina Panthers.

Oluokun doesn't weigh nearly as much as Poe, but he's strong and athletic at 6-foot-2, 229 pounds.

"If they feel like they need me there or need me to do something else, it's me getting on the field, so I'm alright with that," Oluokun said of playing fullback. "Yeah, I'm open-minded to it."

In 2017, the Falcons had 10 rushing touchdowns on 27 rushes from the 5-yard-line and in. That 37 percent ratio ranked 23rd out of 32 NFL teams.

The Falcons have a new fullback this season in 6-foot, 236-pound Ricky Ortiz, but the undrafted player from Oregon State is unproven. Oluokun lacks experience, too, but the Falcons like his versatility. Coach Dan Quinn singled him out as one of the pleasant surprises of the preseason, as Oluokun saw time with the first unit at linebacker and excelled as a tackler on special teams.

Oluokun is listed on the depth chart behind middle linebacker Deion Jones but worked at weakside linebacker in the preseason, with Jones (hamstring) sidelined and Duke Riley filling in for Jones. It wouldn't be a surprise to see Oluokun get some reps behind Riley, especially if Riley struggles.

Don't expect to see Oluokun block for Devonta Freeman or Tevin Coleman during Thursday night's season opener at Philadelphia (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC) because of several reasons, including his newness to the position, his right ankle injury suffered in the third preseason game at Jacksonville, and the Falcons first wanting to see what they have in Ortiz.

"To be honest with you, I'm just trying to get out there and keep improving. The coaches probably have in store for me what they have in store for me," Oluokun said.

"I just go out there and do what they tell me to. To show up and play is all I can do."