New Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan was cautious with his words as he addressed the Atlanta media for the first time on Tuesday.
Naturally, Shanahan avoided being critical of any of his new players as he assessed the talent he inherited. He expressed excitement for the opportunity to work with Matt Ryan and praised Julio Jones as the type of explosive receiver he once coached in Houston during Andre Johnson's glory days.
In discussing the running back situation, Shanahan even spoke glowingly about veteran Steven Jackson, although the aging Jackson is expected to be on the way out.
"I've been here a week ... the main things we're doing right now is looking at our own personnel," Shanahan said. "I don't have a set opinion right now because I haven't watched enough tape, but Steven's a guy I've been a huge fan of over his career.
"Devonta (Freeman) was someone I loved coming out of college last year. And then the guy from Oregon State (Jacquizz Rodgers), I loved him coming out of college. So they're guys I remember from their college days, hard. I know Steven because he's played for a long time. But I haven't evaluated any of those backs since college or just Steven over the years. So, they're guys I'm excited and really looking forward to seeing them and getting them here in (organized team activities) and seeing what we can do."
Jackson, who turns 32 in July, is likely to be released with one year left on his contract. The move would save the Falcons $3.75 million against the salary cap. And the Falcons no doubt want younger, fresher legs in Shanahan's offense.
Shanahan will implement a zone-blocking scheme that relies on offensive linemen capable of running and running backs capable of making that quick one cut for explosive runs. Shanahan was asked what type of running back best fits his scheme.
"People asking me that all the time ... I like a good running back," Shanahan said. "There's no absolute. I've had big guys. I've had smaller guys. I'll take any type of guy. I think Adrian Peterson, Marshawn Lynch are pretty good backs that are pretty big. That doesn't mean I don't want LeSean McCoy. So, I think any type of back can succeed in this system.
"But the type of guys you want are guys who can put their foot in the ground, get downhill. You do want guys who can create arm tackles and then run through them. I'm not looking for a guy that you have to give 30 carries to get 100 yards. You want guys who get downhill, who get over 4.0 yards a carry and they move the chains for you."
Last season as the offensive coordinator for the Browns, Shanahan watched rookies Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West rush for a combined 1,280 yards while averaging 4.0 yards per carry. During the 2012 and '13 seasons in Washington, Shanahan watched running back Alfred Morris post consecutive 1,000-yard seasons while averaging better than 4.6 yards per carry.
Even during his first season as a NFL coordinator with the Houston Texans back in 2008, Shanahan saw running back Steve Slaton go for 1,282 yards while averaging 4.8 yards per carry.
The Falcons haven't had a 1,000-yard rusher since Michael Turner in 2011. And no Falcon has averaged better than 4.0 yards per rush on 25-plus carries since Turner that same season.
It will be interesting to see how the Falcons upgrade the position. One player the team should strongly consider re-signing is Antone Smith, who had his 2014 season end prematurely due to a broken leg. Smith had five touchdowns on just 36 touches last season. His ability to make the one cut and take it to the house would be ideal in Shanahan's system.