The Julio Jones trade thrust Russell Gage from third-fiddle behind two stars in Atlanta to the second chair. Entering his fourth season, the LSU product knows the pressure is on him to produce.
“I understand my role may have increased, but I’m ready for it,” Gage said, via the team’s official website. “We’re going to keep moving forward.”
A sixth-round pick in 2018, Gage has seen his opportunity and production rise each season. After being buried on the depth chart as a rookie — six catches for 63 yards — the Falcons trade of Mohamed Sanu midway through the 2019 campaign opened up a chance for Gage. He stepped through that door. The receiver generated 49 catches for 446 yards and a touchdown. Last season as a big piece of the puzzle, particularly when his fellow wideouts dealt with injury, Gage went off for 72 catches for 786 yards and four TDs.
“There’s no better teacher than the game,” Gage said. “Being out there and taking those reps really helped me to settle in, settle into those spots, the Z or X position or whatever it may be. I’m going to take a lot of that stuff and carry it over into this year.”
With Jones gone, the Falcons will rely on Gage to be WR2 behind Calvin Ridley. Given the rest of the receivers on the roster, the expectation is that the Falcons will run a lot of dual-TE sets with rookie Kyle Pitts and former first-rounder Hayden Hurst. After seeing a career-high 762 snaps last season, Gage will be an every-down player in 2021.
The 25-year-old wideout might not dominate in one characteristic, but he runs crisp routes, owns reliable hands, and can get open, making himself available for quarterback Matt Ryan.
Gage believes learning from Jones the past three seasons will pay big dividends when his role increases once again.
“Run. That was [Julio’s] biggest thing,” said Gage. “Speed off the ball and running. A lot of guys get too caught up thinking into their routes. Understand that even if you make a mistake, make it full speed. A receiver’s biggest asset is his speed. Whatever it is, you need to display it.”
Gage is prepared to show the world that while the loss of Jones is big, the sky isn’t falling in Atlanta. The young wideout can help fill those massive shoes.
“Being on the same page as Matt [Ryan] and understanding what (coach) Arthur (Smith) wants is big,” said Gage. “Those things come hand in hand. When you get to playing faster, it’s all because you are more comfortable, and you know, this is what they want out of me.”
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