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Tuesday, March 4, 2014
Falcons have to get run game going

By Vaughn McClure

The Atlanta Falcons lost a solid player when running back Jason Snelling decided to retire on Tuesday. But now, it's time for them to move forward.

Snelling, a former seventh-round pick from Virginia, was a rather productive player over the last seven seasons. He showed his value running the ball, catching passes out of the backfield, and performing on special teams. You almost knew he was going to score off the shovel pass when the Falcons put him in during goal-line situations. His three touchdown receptions in 2013 were the most for any Falcons running back.

Only Snelling knows why he decided to call it quit at the age of 30 -- he cited family reasons -- but he had a pretty good shelf life for a player at that position.

No matter if Snelling was in the mix or not, the Falcons knew they had to find a way to ignite their running game for the 2014 season. They finished dead last in the league with an average of 77.9 rushing yards per game in '13.

So how do they improve? For starters, veteran bruiser Steven Jackson will be counted upon more heavily to pick up the tough yards after battling a hamstring injury for a good part of last season. Jackson, who turns 31 in July, showed signs of his old self in the second half of last year. The Falcons expect Jackson to keep that momentum going as they look to establish more offensive balance.

The next step will be improving the offensive line to help pave holes for Jackson and the other running backs. New offensive line coach Mike Tice won't tolerate seeing his guys get pushed back, as they were most of last season. The Falcons need to add a veteran right guard and probably draft an offensive tackle in order to get tougher up front.

Then there are the guys Steven Jackson: Jacquizz Rodgers and Antone Smith. Rodgers had 1,248 all-purpose yards and gave the offense a change of pace, although he was probably called upon too much in short-yardage situations.

Smith averaged a whopping 29 yards per carry on his five attempts, including a 50-yard touchdown sprint. Coach Mike Smith promised Smith would get more touches, but an increased role never truly evolved. Smith works hard on special teams and probably deserves more touches on offense.

Of course, the Falcons are likely to draft a running back to throw into the mix. West Virginia's Charles Sims, projected third-round pick, already has gotten some attention from the Falcons.

However it all unfolds, the Falcons will miss some of the aspects Snelling brings in terms of being a reliable back. But if the others perform up to expectations, he won't be missed as much.