- Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer
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Almost a year later, there seems to be some doubt about their futures with the Falcons.
Both Jackson and Umenyiora were topics of conversation when Falcons head coach Mike Smith addressed the media at the NFL combine on Thursday. While Smith didn’t come out and declare Jackson his starting running back for next season, the coach did appear to give Jackson a subtle vote of confidence while nudging the offensive line.
"Steven Jackson, unfortunately, was injured in the second game of the season (hamstring). I don’t think we really got a chance to see what Steven is capable of doing until the last three or four games," Smith said. "I think he scored all six of his touchdowns in those last four ball games.
"We have to improve our running game, and it starts with winning the line of scrimmage. That is an area that will be an emphasis point for us; not only to be able to run the football but to protect our quarterback."
The Falcons seem willing to see how Jackson will perform when healthy and running behind a better offensive line. He averaged a career-low 3.5 yards per carry on 157 attempts in 2013 as the Falcons finished last in the league in rushing. Jackson, who turns 31 in July, is signed through 2015 and is scheduled to count $4,166,666 against the cap in '14.
As for Umenyiora, Smith seemed somewhat reluctant to commit to the 32-year-old pass-rusher when the subject of possibly releasing a veteran such as Umenyiora came up.
"Osi did a very good job for us this past season," Smith said. "Led the team in sacks, had 7.5 sacks. Did a good job in the leadership role as well. He was a great mentor to some of our defensive ends.
"I’m never going to say never. This is the time of the year that you are recalibrating your roster. But Osi did an outstanding job for us in 2013, and looking forward to continuing to work with him."
Umenyiora is set to count $4.75 million against the cap this season. His future seems to depend on whether the Falcons add a veteran pass-rusher and rookie defensive end to the mix, which is possible given the team’s pass-rush woes.