The Atlanta Falcons acquired a pair of running backs in this year’s draft and signed another during free agency, but they still have big plans for their presumptive backup.
Behind Devonta Freeman on their depth chart is second year running back Ito Smith, one of the many Falcons players to wind up on the injured reserve, but who is expected to be ready and healthy when the team meets for training camp.
The player sustained a knee injury during a practice in mid December and then aggravated the problem during the Falcons’ Dec. 16 victory over Arizona.
Smith had arthroscopic surgery on Dec. 19 to address a meniscus issue in his left knee and was forced to miss the final two games of his rookie season.
He finished the year with 90 carries for 315 yards, finishing with an average of 3.5 yards per attempt, and scoring four touchdowns, adding 27 catches for 152 yards on 32 targets.
From there, Smith was placed on the injured reserve list.
He joined a long list of players the Falcons have added to the injured reserve list, including strong safety Keanu Neal, free safety Ricardo Allen, running back Devonta Freeman, left guard Andy Levitre, right guard Brandon Fusco, long snapper Josh Harris, and reserve defensive end Derrick Shelby.
Head coach Dan Quinn revealed that Smith did not tear his ACL, but that the knee injury still required surgery, helping the team make the decision to shut him down for the season, saying that the move was made given that Smith would almost certainly not be available and in full health for the Falcons’ final two regular season games.
Despite his departure from the roster for those last two weeks of the regular season, Quinn said that the rookie has a place on this roster going forward.
“I think he’s got a big future,” Quinn said of Smith.
Quinn believes in establishing the run more is important for the team’s development.
“I think it has to be a part of our identity,” he said. “I think it adds to the overall toughness of your team, but it also so clearly sets up the line of scrimmage for the run game and the play action to balance off one another. Our identity is tied into that.”
The backup running back position is up in the air as Atlanta enters the offseason. Devonta Freeman remains their starter after signing a five year, $41.25 million contract before the 2017 season, but since then has dealt with a pair of concussions and two knee injuries.
Reserve back Tevin Coleman left for San Francisco during the free agency period, and now it appears Smith also has some competition for the No. 2 spot with Kenjon Barner and the team drafted Qadree Ollison from Pittsburgh and Marcus Green from Louisiana Monroe to bolster the rotation.
Barner signed a one year contract with Atlanta this offseason, and though he is expected mostly to be in play for a return position on special teams, he could work his way into the backfield.
Ollison and Green are expected to be in competition for the final running back position and a position on special teams, but Smith’s capability as a receiver should help him out this summer.