Dirk Koetter: When healthy, Todd Gurley arguably is best back in the game

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Todd Gurley passed his physical this week. That means he’s healthy enough to practice and play.

But questions remain about the running back after his knee issues of the past two seasons. Gurley’s knee problems played into his release from the Rams, who cut him less than two years after signing him to a megacontract extension.

“Well, nobody knows the answer to the juice left in the tank question. Nobody knows that,” Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter told the team website Tuesday. “He’s 25 years old and just from talking to him, for a guy who’s accomplished what he’s accomplished, you love his approach. You love his attitude. I mean, he’s excited to play. He’s excited to come back and play in front of these fans in Georgia.

“When healthy, you could argue he’s the best back in the game. Yeah, he’s had down years as far as the number of touches the last couple of years, but none of us really know — if you’re not there, if you’re not on the inside, you don’t really know all the ins and outs of that. Todd is telling us that he’s good to go and that he’s healthy. When you watch his tape from last year, he looks as good as ever. The question will just be: How often can he do? How consistently can he do it?”

Gurley’s playing time did not change much in 2019. In 15 games, Gurley played 787 snaps, or 71 percent of the team’s total offensive plays. He saw 825 snaps in 14 games in 2018 (75 percent) and 788 snaps in 15 games in 2017 (76 percent).

But his touches did go down in 2019. Gurley averaged 19.2 touches as a rookie, 20.0 in 2016, 22.9 in 2017 when he won offensive player of the year, 22.5 in 2018 and 16.9 last season.

While Gurley is the most accomplished running back on the Falcons, he will share the load with Brian Hill, Qadree Ollison and Ito Smith.

“I just think that the days of a running back carrying it 30 times in a game, I just don’t see that much happening anymore,” Koetter said. “People tend to not appreciate how much running backs take a pounding in the NFL. . . . There’s been a lot of talk about his carries being down, but he still had 15 carries a game, plus two catches a game. That’s 17 touches out of your 64 that you’re going to average [as a team].

“I would never pretend to be able to get inside Todd’s head to [answer] did [last season] refresh him? But again, he’s 25 years old. He’s been to the highest point you can go as a running back in this league. All I can go by is when I’ve talked to him, he sounds very excited. . . . I think he will be energized, but we’ll just have to see how healthy he is.”