NFL Nation: Jason Snelling

The Atlanta Falcons obviously are impressed with at least one small-school running back.

Towson University's Terrance West, a player the Falcons reportedly worked out privately, is scheduled to visit the team next Wednesday, according to a league source.

The 5-foot-9, 225-pound West opened eyes with an impressive performance during his pro day. He is projected as a third-round pick after leaving school a year early.

In three seasons at Towson, West rushed for 4,849 yards on 802 carries with 84 touchdowns. His touchdown total tied the NCAA FCS record set by Georgia Southern's Adrian Peterson, the brother of former Falcon Mike Peterson.

Although the Falcons still believe in veteran Steven Jackson, they'll need to draft another running back for the future. Jason Snelling's abrupt retirement created a need for more depth at the position although the Falcons have Jacquizz Rodgers and Antone Smith returning.

The Falcons also have top offensive tackle Jake Matthews from Texas A&M visiting next week, as well as UCLA outside linebacker Anthony Barr.
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.
The case involving Atlanta Falcons running back Jason Snelling and his arrest for misdemeanor marijuana charges has been continued until February, according to City of Winder (Ga.) court records.

Snelling
Snelling’s attorney asked for the continuance on Friday morning in the City of Winder Municipal Court, and the motion was granted. Snelling was not required to appear in court.

He was charged with misdemeanor marijuana possession (less than one ounce) and possession of drug paraphernalia. Winder police officer Chris Cooper said Snelling was arrested following a traffic stop on Nov. 15. Cooper said officers pulled over Snelling's SUV after noticing it weaving and crossing the center line. Cooper said officers smelled marijuana inside the vehicle and determined Snelling did not have a valid driver's license or insurance. He also was cited for improper use of a dealer plate.

Snelling was released after posting $3,121 bond.

A few days following the arrest, Snelling addressed the media.

"I just want to start off first apologizing to my family, my teammates and my coaches for the actions that followed me this past weekend," Snelling said. "Also want to apologize to our owner, Arthur Blank, and our general manager, Thomas Dimitroff, and our head coach, Coach [Mike] Smith, for my actions. I made a mistake and I'm very apologetic about it. And I'm ready to move forward from it.’’

Snelling did not make the trip to Tampa Bay to face the Buccaneers the weekend of his arrest.

Based on Friday’s developments, Snelling won’t have to enter a plea until after the season concludes.

The seven-year veteran is signed through 2014.
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Don't expect the Atlanta Falcons to spread the carries around among running backs Steven Jackson, Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling.

Jackson
If anything, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Jackson get even more carries Sunday at Tampa Bay, if the Falcons can avoid falling behind and having to rely on the passing game.

Although Jackson managed just 11 yards on nine carries in a 33-10 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter sees the need to give Jackson more opportunities.

"My opinion is Steven Jackson is a workhorse running back and we haven't been able to work him," Koetter said. "I mean, I think Steven is one of those guys that gets better the more he touches it.

"We're not running it successfully enough to get him enough carries. If he's carrying in multiple times, he's going to need to come out and then that's going to lead to [Rodgers] and Jason getting more carries, too. But unfortunately, because we're not doing anything successfully right now and we're getting behind on the scoreboard, [the running game] sometimes gets away from us."

Jackson's season-high in carries was 13 against Carolina, and he seemed to run with more authority with each attempt while gaining 57 rugged yards. He had a season-high 77 rushing yards on 11 carries in the season opener at New Orleans, but that total included a 50-yard run.

Jackson, 30, has averaged 18 rushing attempts per game over the course of 10 seasons. Right now, he's averaging a career-low 9.4 attempts, slightly below his average as a rookie in St. Louis (9.4).

Four times with the Rams, Jackson averaged 20-plus carries in a season. And he averaged 4.1 yards per carry or better in three of those four seasons.

So far this season, Jackson is averaging a career-low 3.2 yards per carry. But keep in mind that he missed four games with a hamstring injury and is running behind an offensive line that has struggled to open holes. Not to mention the Falcons have had trouble with backside blocking.

It will be interesting to see how many more carries Jackson gets Sunday against the league's fifth-best rushing defense in Tampa Bay.

"I think if you look at any premier running back over the years, they all get better the more they get the ball," Koetter said. "When I was in Jacksonville with Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew, shoot, if they had their way, they wanted the ball every time.

"Anybody that's got the stats that Steven Jackson does, they want the ball a lot."
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons receiver Roddy White continued to be an observer as the team returned to practice Thursday.

White has missed the last two games with hamstring and ankle injuries. He came to the practice field wearing a floppy hat as his teammates began drills.

Also sidelined during practice were linebackers Stephen Nicholas and Sean Weatherspoon. Nicholas has a quad injury, and Weatherspoon is on short-term injured reserve while recovering from a foot injury. Weatherspoon is eligible to return in Week 11.

Running back Jason Snelling returned to practice off an ankle injury. His return could help a struggling running game ranked last in the league (62.4 rushing yards per game).

Linebacker Akeem Dent, who was limited Wednesday coming off an ankle injury, said he expected to have full participation Thursday.
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Roddy White and running back Steven Jackson remained sidelined during Friday's practice, the last day of preparation for Sunday's game against Tampa Bay.

White
White
While Jackson seems more than likely to miss his fourth-straight game with a hamstring injury, White's status remains unclear. He apparently has missed all week of practice in the past yet still played in a game. Right now, White is nursing a hamstring injury as well as a high-ankle sprain.

White has played in 133 consecutive games, so his streak could be in jeopardy. Coach Mike Smith could address the injuries following Friday's practice.

Also sidelined during Friday's session were left tackle Sam Baker (knee) and tight end Chase Coffman (knee).

Linebacker Akeem Dent was in practice gear with a helmet for the second consecutive day coming off an ankle injury. Running back Jason Snelling has had full participation in practice this week coming off a concussion.
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- As running back Steven Jackson missed another day of practice due to a hamstring injury, Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith was pressed on whether further tests determined the injury to be more serious.

Jackson
"No we haven't," Smith said, referring to getting a different diagnosis. "I know as soon as he gets cleared by the doctors, we will get him back out here. It's a hamstring that's been tough to come back from at this point in time."

The Falcons get Jason Snelling back from a concussion this week to help shoulder the running back load along with Jacquizz Rodgers. Jackson is expected to miss his fourth straight game, with only one day of practice remaining this week.

Jackson previously expressed hope to return to action this week, but he also wrote on his personal blog that he wouldn't come back until he was 100 percent. He suffered the injury in a Week 2 win over his former team, the St. Louis Rams.

Smith said linebacker Akeem Dent did return to practice coming off an ankle injury but was limited. Dent's status for Sunday's matchup with Tampa Bay remains unclear.

Also held out of practice were receiver Roddy White (hamstring/ankle), tackle Sam Baker (knee) and tight end Chase Coffmann (knee).
Tom Brady and Matt RyanGetty ImagesTom Brady and Matt Ryan have both come in for heaping praise ahead of Sunday's meeting.

ATLANTA -- There are $100 million reasons why Matt Ryan should be talked about among the NFL’s elite quarterbacks. One thing the Atlanta Falcons quarterback doesn’t have that his Sunday-night counterpart possesses is a Super Bowl ring.

Ryan's showdown with New England Patriots star Tom Brady is sure to be a hot topic throughout Week 4. He already lost one such head-to-head matchup, when Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints got the better of Ryan and the Falcons in the season opener (23-17).

So how will Ryan fare against the Pats? He’ll need help from all phases, something he didn’t receive in last week’s loss to the Miami Dolphins.

ESPN.com Falcons team reporter Vaughn McClure and Patriots reporter Mike Reiss break it down:

McClure: The Falcons were touted as a Super Bowl contender -- and possibly a favorite -- going into the season. But now, at 1-2, they find themselves in almost a must-win situation at home. How will the Patriots respond to the hostile environment they’ll enter Sunday night at the Georgia Dome?

Reiss: With 13 rookies on the 53-man roster -- including receivers Aaron Dobson (second round) and Kenbrell Thompkins (undrafted), who are playing key roles -- there is an element of unknown for the Patriots when projecting how the team will respond. Some of these players simply haven’t experienced this environment and prime-time stage. It’s rare for a Patriots team to be relying on such a large number of rookies for significant contributions, and that is one of the interesting storylines from a New England perspective this week. Other storylines are if this might be tight end Rob Gronkowski's season debut, if receiver Danny Amendola will also return after missing two games with a groin injury and if the defense -- which has been solid against lesser competition (Jets, Bills, Buccaneers) -- can limit an explosive passing game that is easily the best the unit has seen to this point in the season. Give us a feel for how things are going for the Falcons on offense.

McClure: Not too well, at the moment. Head coach Mike Smith’s biggest complaint is how inefficient his team has been in the red zone. During the Week 3 loss to the Dolphins, the Falcons were 2-of-5 in red zone opportunities. For the season, they are 6-of-12 (50 percent) in terms of touchdowns in the red zone, but offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter wants that number to be a bit higher. Having bruising running back Steven Jackson in the lineup would no doubt help in goal-line situations, but Jackson will miss Sunday’s game while nursing a hamstring injury. Receiver Roddy White is also a solid red zone target, but White is not 100 percent healthy coming off a high-ankle sprain. Ryan still has Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez as primary scoring weapons. How do you think the Patriots will keep up with the speedy receiver and ageless tight end?

Reiss: I think it starts with how they decide to match up against the Falcons’ “11 personnel” (one back, one tight end), because that looks like the most explosive package -- receivers Jones, White and Harry Douglas, with Gonzalez at tight end and either Jacquizz Rodgers or Jason Snelling at running back. Last Sunday against the Buccaneers’ “11 personnel,” the Patriots stayed in their base defense but played with three cornerbacks in the secondary -- their way of staying sturdy against the run but adding a coverage element to the secondary. I’d be surprised if we see that this week because the Falcons are much more potent in the passing game. So I could envision the Patriots turning to a coverage-heavy dime defense (six defensive backs), specifically with Jones and Gonzalez in mind, with the thought that a lighter box might be enough to limit the running game. For the Falcons, how are things shaping up on defense?

McClure: The defense has had its issues. Take the Miami game, for example. The Falcons held a 23-20 lead with just less than five minutes remaining in regulation. The defense needed to close, needed to put pressure on Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill, needed to lock down the receivers. Instead, the Falcons played soft coverage after the Dolphins reached midfield and couldn’t disrupt Tannehill’s rhythm. In the end, Tannehill engineered a 13-play, 75-yard drive that ended with his game-winning touchdown pass to Dion Sims. Not playing tight coverage and not wrapping up on tackles cost the Falcons in that game, and it could cost them the rest of the season if they don’t find a way to correct those problems immediately. They could use their defensive leader, linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, who was placed on injured reserve (foot) with a designation to return in Week 11. One other aspect noticeable in Miami was how the Dolphins tight ends won their one-on-one matchups against the Falcons on that final drive. That being said, will Atlanta have to contend with one of the best tight ends in the league, Gronkowski?

Reiss: We might not know the answer for sure until 90 minutes before kickoff, but things have been pointing in that direction. The one area the Patriots could use Gronkowski most, at least initially, is in the red zone. One season after ranking first in the NFL in red zone touchdown percentage (which we acknowledge isn't a foolproof stat), the Patriots rank last (4-of-13). It’s going to be hard to win a game like this settling for field goals. Speaking of which, let’s not overlook special teams. The Patriots are getting good contributions in that third phase of the game, with a 53-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski a highlight in Sunday’s victory over the Buccaneers. How about the Falcons?

McClure: Yet another area in which the Falcons could use much improvement. Against the Dolphins, returner Douglas fumbled a punt he admitted he shouldn’t have fielded in the first place. It translated into a Dolphins touchdown three plays later. The usually reliable Matt Bryant missed a 35-yard field goal in the fourth quarter. And the Falcons had three penalties on special teams: two holds and an illegal block above the waist. Through three games, the Falcons are ranked 26th in punt return average and 30th in kickoff return average, although they’ve returned just one kickoff. Those special-teams issues are enough to cause special-teams coordinator Keith Armstrong to blow a gasket. Speaking of that, is Brady still yelling at his receivers?

Reiss: Could you hear him down there in Atlanta? That was probably the most talked about storyline after New England's 13-10 win over the Jets on Sept. 12, whether Brady’s on-field frustrations were making things tougher on the young receivers than they needed to be. But it was mostly yelling at himself this past Sunday. He was upset with an end zone interception he said he shouldn’t have thrown. And he missed some open receivers, too. So while Brady’s stats were better last week, his performance wasn’t up to his own high standard, and it was actually more about him than the young pass-catchers, who turned in their best performance of the season. What is Ryan saying about this matchup?

McClure: Ryan said plenty about the Patriots when he addressed the media in the locker room Wednesday. He said he expects to see a lot of man-to-man coverage and complimented the Patriots for being very sound with their technique. He believes the front seven does a great job of creating pressure in both the run game and against the pass. Of course, Ryan gave much credit to Brady for being one of the top quarterbacks in the league for such a long time. In fact, Ryan joked that he hoped to be around as long as Brady. And Ryan singled out Vince Wilfork for not only being a disruptive force up front, but for being a 325-pound guy who plays a lot of snaps. So what’s the word from Bill Belichick?

Reiss: Belichick complimented Ryan, saying among other things that Ryan has very few bad plays. He shared his belief that consistency is the mark of any great player and Ryan is “pretty consistent -- every play, every game, every series.” And, according to Brady, Belichick said the following to players this week: “If you love football, then Sunday night at 8:30 in Atlanta will be the place to be.” Hard to imagine many would disagree about that. This is going to be fun.

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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Covering Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez one-on-one without help is what every linebacker dreads, and what the future Hall of Famer craves.

So as the Falcons prepare for the Dolphins this Sunday, you can understand why the prospect of Julio Jones drawing extra attention excites Gonzalez.

[+] EnlargeMatt Ryan & Tony Gonzalez
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsMatt Ryan and Tony Gonzalez are preparing for what the Falcons hope will be plenty of one-on-one matchups against the Dolphins in Week 3.
"They doubled up (Larry) Fitzgerald a lot, and you would probably think they’d do the same thing against Julio (Jones), which is going to create one-on-one matchups with other guys," Gonzalez said. "They blitz a lot, too, which creates one-on-one matchups. We have to go out there and know that this week we’re expecting that man-to-man coverage. Especially when they go to that blitz, you have to beat your one-on-one coverage. And we think we have the guys to be able to be successful at that."

Gonzalez addressed the topic while referencing how Miami defended explosive Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald in Week 4 of last season. Fitzgerald had eight receptions for 64 yards and a touchdown and was targeted 15 times as the Dolphins bracketed him, for the most part. Fellow Cardinals receiver Andre Roberts took advantage of the attention on Fitzgerald and finished with six catches for a career-high 118 yards and two touchdowns in Arizona’s 24-21 overtime win.

And that was with Kevin Kolb at quarterback.

Imagine what Matt Ryan might be able to do with his variety of weapons, provided he gets protection against a potent Dolphins defensive line led by Cameron Wake. Not to mention Gonzalez should win his one-on-ones, considering the Dolphins have surrendered 13 catches for 177 yards to starting tight ends through two games.

Jones, however, is certain to be the focus of Miami’s defensive game plan after posting career highs in both receptions (11) and receiving yards (182) in last week’s 31-24 win against St. Louis. His day included an 81-yard catch-and-run score. Jones was extremely effective in the screen game, too.

"That’s one thing you know Miami is probably going to make adjustments, especially with Julio catching all those screens," Gonzalez said. "They might have a plan for that, I’m pretty sure. That’s another trend around the NFL: You’ve seen them set up the run, the screen is taking the place of that run."

Speaking of the running game, an integral part will be missing Sunday with Steven Jackson already ruled out with a hamstring injury. He’ll be replaced by the elusive Jacquizz Rodgers and downhill runner Jason Snelling.

Besides losing Jackson for what looks like three weeks, the Falcons also lost defensive end Kroy Biermann (Achilles tear) and fullback Bradie Ewing (separated shoulder) to season-ending injuries and lost linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (foot) until at least Week 11. (Weatherspoon was placed on injured reserve with designation to return.)

This week, key players such as receiver Roddy White (high-ankle sprain), left tackle Sam Baker (knee/foot) and cornerback Asante Samuel (thigh) have all been held out of practice this week, although White returned on a limited basis Thursday. Even Jones (knee) was limited the past two days.

"Injuries are a part of the game," Gonzalez said. "It’s the NFL. Look across the league. That’s what happens. That’s part of the business, is staying healthy. And, unfortunately, we’re down a little bit right now.

"But at the same time, that’s why we have the backups that are going to come in and they’re going to do the job hopefully just as well as the starters would have. And that’s what’s expected of them. It’s a hard position for them to be in, but I think that they’re up to that challenge. The coaches are going to make adjustments. We’re going to be fine."
Ryan Tannehill and Julio JonesUSA TODAY SportsRyan Tannehill and the undefeated Dolphins will try to upset Julio Jones and the Atlanta Falcons.
The Miami Dolphins are basking in the light of a 2-0 start while the Atlanta Falcons are just trying to find some healthy bodies.

The two teams play each other Sunday in a game that has big implications in the AFC East and NFC South races.

ESPN Dolphins reporter James Walker and ESPN Buccaneers reporter Pat Yasinskas examine this matchup:

Yasinskas: James, like many, I thought the Dolphins would be an improved team. But it's looking like they might be even better than I thought. They've gone out and started their season with two big wins on the road. What's going right for the Dolphins and, more importantly, how good are they?

Walker: It's early, Pat, but Miami is already exceeding my expectations. I pegged the Dolphins to be an 8-8 team this year. That still could happen if the team loses focus, but Miami is on pace to do better. I credit two things: improved playmaking ability and the growth of second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Miami committed more than $200 million in free-agent contracts to players like receiver Mike Wallace, cornerback Brent Grimes and linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler. All of those players came up big in last Sunday's win over the Indianapolis Colts. When you add in the fact Tannehill has improved in his second year, it's easy to see why the Dolphins are also taking the next step. Atlanta is a team many believe is a Super Bowl contender, but the group is banged up. Pat, how much will injuries impact the Falcons in this game?

Yasinskas: Atlanta has some major injury problems. The Falcons had to put defensive end/linebacker Kroy Biermann and fullback Bradie Ewing on injured reserve this week and there are reports that running back Steven Jackson will miss a few weeks. The loss of Biermann means the Falcons will have to play rookies Joplo Bartu and Paul Worrilow at linebacker and second-year pro Jonathan Massaquoi at defensive end. If Jackson is out, the Falcons will have to go with Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling as their running backs, and that's a sharp drop-off. That probably means the Falcons will pass even more than usual and rely on Roddy White and Julio Jones. Is Miami's secondary ready for that tandem?

Walker: I had a good conversation with Miami's top cornerback, Grimes, on Tuesday. He was complimentary of both White and Jones -- and Grimes would know. The former Falcon watched both receivers grow in Atlanta and practiced against them. It will be fun to see who has the advantage between Grimes and White/Jones, depending on the play. Grimes told me they all know each other so well that it's probably a push. The bigger concern for Miami's secondary is the other cornerback spot. Veteran starter Dimitri Patterson didn't play in Week 2 due to a groin injury. He's working his way back and could play Sunday. Rookie corners Will Davis and Jamar Taylor also returned to practice this week, which could provide depth. Similar to the game against Indianapolis, Miami must do a lot of things schematically to cover up its issues opposite Grimes. That includes using the safeties over the top and getting a good pass rush. Speaking of pass rush, the Dolphins have nine sacks in the first two games. Can they exploit the Falcons in this area?

Yasinskas: Miami's pass rush has to be a major concern for the Falcons. Atlanta revamped its offensive line in the offseason and it's taking some time to come together. The right side of the line is of particular concern with guard Garrett Reynolds and Lamar Holmes as the starters. Reynolds is average at best and Holmes, a second-year pro, was thrown into the starting lineup when Mike Johnson went down with an injury in the preseason. Holmes is very much a work in progress, so the Falcons will have to try to give him some help by getting their tight ends and running backs involved as pass-blockers. Still, Atlanta should be able to move the ball through the air because it has Matt Ryan, Jones, White and tight end Tony Gonzalez. Has Tannehill developed enough to win a shootout?

Walker: That's an interesting question, Pat. I'm not sure anyone -- even Miami's coaching staff -- has the answer. I did notice the Dolphins' game plan in Week 1 against Cleveland was fairly conservative compared to Week 2 against Indianapolis. Those are two different teams, and perhaps the Dolphins realized they needed to be more aggressive throwing and take more vertical shots deep to match Colts quarterback Andrew Luck. This is a similar type of challenge, because Atlanta's offense is built around scoring points in the passing game. Tannehill is getting better at taking over parts of a game in Year 2. His play in the second half the past two weeks has been terrific. The Dolphins are outscoring opponents 24-6 in the third and fourth quarters, in part because Tannehill is moving the chains, putting points on the board and keeping Miami's defense fresh. I don't expect this game to be all on Tannehill's shoulders. The defense remains the strength of the Dolphins. Keeping Atlanta's scoring around 23 points or fewer, as opposed to having Tannehill throw for 400 yards, is probably Miami's best shot to win.

Three takeaways: Jaguars-Falcons

August, 30, 2013
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Three things that stood out in the Jacksonville Jaguars20-16 victory over Atlanta on Thursday night:

1. Running back Jordan Todman showed again not only why he deserves to make the team but to probably be No. 2 on the depth chart behind Maurice Jones-Drew. The former UConn standout ran for 60 yards and a touchdown on nine carries, giving him a team-high 223 yards on 29 carries in the preseason.

Todman, who scored on an 18-yard run against the Falcons in the first quarter, is a patient runner who quickly gets north and south when he makes a decision. He has been the offense’s best player throughout the preseason.

The Jaguars signed Justin Forsett to be the top option behind Jones-Drew, but he has yet to play this preseason because of a sprained toe on his right foot. He hasn’t even practiced since he suffered the injury during the first live period of training camp.

Forsett is hoping for a Week 1 return, but even if he does, Todman has been so impressive that it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him get more work.

2. Cornerback Demetrius McCray had his best game of the preseason: five tackles, two pass breakups and a sack. One of those tackles came with a group of other defenders on a fourth-down stop inside the 5-yard line to preserve the victory.

The Jaguars drafted McCray with their second pick in the seventh round of this year's draft. He’s a bigger corner (6-foot, 185 pounds) and plays the physical style coach Gus Bradley wants out of his corners.

McCray had been having a relatively anonymous preseason (just two tackles), but he solidified his spot on the roster with his performance against the Falcons. He jarred a pass loose from receiver Kevin Cone and then made a leaping deflection of another pass to Cone in the first half. He also made a solid open-field tackle on fullback Jason Snelling on a screen pass.

3. Quarterback Matt Scott did some nice things, but they were wiped out by two terrible plays: a fumble that was returned for a touchdown and an interception on back-to-back series in the second quarter.

Scott’s first turnover came when he failed to secure the ball when he turned on a bootleg and was confronted by defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi, who poked the ball free and returned it for a 9-yard touchdown. It’s not an unusual occurrence for a quarterback to whip around into the bootleg after the fake and see a defender in his face. Sometimes the smartest thing a quarterback can do is realize the play has been blown up and just secure the ball and keep the negative play from becoming even worse.

On the interception, Scott stared down intended receiver Mike Brown, and cornerback Desmond Trufant, the Falcons’ first-round draft pick, stepped in front of the pass. There may have been some miscommunication on the route, but it was an easy interception for Trufant.

Scott was battling Mike Kafka for the No. 3 quarterback spot. Scott completed 6 of 12 passes for 67 yards. Kafka completed 6 of 15 passes for 46 yards, but he did hook up with Jeremy Ebert on a 13-yard touchdown pass that put the Jaguars ahead for good.
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

How does each NFC South team look at running back, and what still needs to be done?

Atlanta Falcons: The Falcons upgraded this position quite a bit in free agency by replacing Michael Turner with Steven Jackson. This will be Jackson’s 10th NFL season, but he is still running very hard and shows an impressive burst for his age. He is as physical as ever and, for the first time in recent memory, will not be facing stacked boxes down after down. Jackson is also a far superior receiver to Turner, which is extremely important in this offense, which excels with so many great receivers. Jackson might not have a lot of big years left, but I expect 2013 to be one of his finest. Jacquizz Rodgers caught 53 passes last year, but Jackson should cut into Rodgers’ role on throwing downs. And Rodgers isn’t a true answer if Jackson were to go down. That lead role probably would go to Jason Snelling, who also is not a liability catching the football. Rodgers should see a fair amount of playing time, though, in Atlanta’s three-wide receiver sets, as he did a year ago.

Carolina Panthers: The Panthers have more running backs than they know what to do with -- and have invested too many premium resources at this position. The lead guy here is Jonathan Stewart, who, if given the chance to be a featured back for an entire season and able to stay healthy, might just prove to be one of the top half-dozen backs in the league. Stewart has missed only nine games over his five seasons but is constantly fighting nagging injuries. He also averaged a meager 3.6 yards per carry last season after averaging 5.4 the year before. The Panthers recently restructured DeAngelo Williams’ contract, ensuring he'll remain in Carolina. This will be Williams’ eighth NFL season, but he hasn’t received more than 173 carries in any of the past three seasons. He has breakaway abilities and a penchant for breaking off long runs. I think he still has plenty left in the tank. Mike Tolbert is listed as a fullback, but he is a short-yardage specialist who is a bowling ball with a low center of gravity. For a back of his dimensions (5-foot-9, 245 pounds), he is also a surprisingly adept receiver. Oddly, when considering all of its other needs, Carolina used a sixth-round pick on Kenjon Barner, a perimeter and space player who comes from Chip Kelly’s high-octane Oregon offensive attack.

New Orleans Saints: Chris Ivory is now with the Jets, but the Saints still have a full stable of capable backs. In his first two NFL seasons, Mark Ingram has rushed for only 1,076 yards combined and has averaged under 4.0 yards per carry. But I expect Ingram to break out in 2013. Health issues have been a problem since he entered the league, but, as the 2012 season went along, he looked more and more comfortable. Despite its great prowess throwing the ball, Sean Payton’s offense stresses a physical, inside running game, which suits Ingram very well. Darren Sproles turns 30 before the season, but he is not at all short on quickness, speed or explosiveness. He is an elite receiving back who has caught 161 balls over his past 29 regular-season games. Pierre Thomas isn’t huge on production numbers, but he is extremely effective on a per-touch basis as a runner or receiver. He could fill in very ably in Ingram’s or Sproles’ role for a short period of time. The Saints use Thomas extremely well. Travaris Cadet could have a small role for New Orleans.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Doug Martin was a phenom in his first season, accumulating nearly 2,000 combined yards even though the Buccaneers were missing their high-priced guards to help pave the way. Martin entered the league NFL-ready with an excellent all-around game. He is a very good, but not great, receiver. The same is true for his pass protection. He should only get better in both areas. But Martin is already a very good runner who can get to the corner with speed, break long runs and handle the physical pounding at the position. He is an excellent interior runner. Rookie sixth-round pick Mike James could be Martin’s direct backup, but Tampa Bay also used a seventh-round pick last year on Michael Smith. Brian Leonard is on the roster, as well. James isn’t flashy but has size and isn’t a dancer. Smith has more quickness to his game, but probably wouldn’t be suited for a large role if Martin were to miss time. Leonard plays hard and is a good blocker and receiver. He is also an accomplished special-teams player and knows how to help a team. Don’t be surprised if the Buccaneers consider adding a veteran running back before training camp opens.

Falcons sign RB Antone Smith

March, 5, 2013
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The Atlanta Falcons have signed a running back. No, it’s not the type of big name you were hoping for (although that could come in free agency or the draft).

The Falcons just announced they have signed restricted free agent Antone Smith to a two-year contract.

But don’t look for the commitment to Smith to suddenly make him into a factor in the backfield. He has one career carry (that was in 2010), but has made his living by being a regular on special teams.

After releasing Michael Turner last week, the Falcons still have Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling.

Time for Falcons to get younger at RB

February, 14, 2013
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TurnerMatthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsWith his production dropping and a high cap figure, Michael Turner's run in Atlanta may be over.
Let’s give Michael Turner his props. If he’s not the best running back in the history of the Atlanta Falcons, he certainly is close to that.

Turner is a major reason why the Falcons made the playoffs in four of the past five seasons. He gave the Falcons four wonderful seasons and one mediocre one.

That last part is why the Falcons need to make the cold, hard business decision and give Turner his walking papers sometime between now and the start of free agency. Yeah, it may sound cruel for a guy that’s played so well and been a good teammate, but it clearly is time for a change.

Heck, you can just look back at last season and make a very strong argument that it’s past time for a change. Turner was visibly slower in 2012, and that came in a season when the Falcons limited his playing time.

Turner turned 31 on Wednesday, and I think it’s safe to say he’s not going to get any faster or better. Turner helped get the Falcons to the cusp of being a Super Bowl team, but they’re not going to turn things into a Jerome Bettis farewell tour if they let Turner stick around for the final year of his contract. They'll just stand still, or lose ground.

It’s time for the Falcons to pull the plug for many reasons.

Let’s start where you always should start with this type of situation. Let’s start with the money.

Turner is scheduled to count $8.9 million against the 2013 salary cap. Releasing him would instantly free up $6.4 million.

That would be significant money for a team that’s barely under the salary cap and needs to make efforts to prevent cornerback Brent Grimes, left tackle Sam Baker and strong safety William Moore from walking away as free agents.

[+] EnlargeJacquizz Rodgers
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsFalcons running back Jacquizz Rodgers could receive an increased role in 2013.
Could the Falcons restructure Turner’s contract and make it more cap friendly? Sure, but there’s not much point in that.

That’s where the football part comes in. Atlanta doesn’t run the same offense it did in Turner’s first four seasons. When offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter arrived last offseason, he made the Falcons a pass-first team.

That’s why fans that are screaming for the Falcons to go out and get Steven Jackson, Ahmad Bradshaw or Reggie Bush are missing the mark by a mile -- or at least visions of a 1,000-yard season. They all come with wear and tear, and they all would come with hefty price tags.

In case you haven’t noticed, it’s no longer practical in the NFL to pay huge money to running backs. That’s especially true when you have an offense that’s built around quarterback Matt Ryan and receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White.

The Falcons no longer need a running back that’s going to give them 20 to 25 carries a game and rush for 1,300 yards a season.

What Atlanta needs is someone to work in tandem with Jacquizz Rodgers, who was paired with Turner last season. Rodgers showed he can do a little bit of everything and can do it pretty well. Rodgers might be able to take on an even bigger role next season.

But Rodgers needs someone to share the backfield duties, and I’m not sure third-stringer Jason Snelling will ever be ready to take on a bigger role than he has had.

The best thing the Falcons can do is let Turner walk away (he can contribute somewhere else for a year or two) and go out and get a fresh set of legs for the backfield.

There’s an easy and inexpensive way to do that. It’s called the NFL draft.

Running back is a position where it’s easy to make an instant impact. Just look at what Doug Martin did in Tampa Bay last season. And you don’t have to be a first-round pick like Martin to have sudden success. Look again to Tampa Bay where LeGarrette Blount, who wasn’t even drafted, had a 1,000-yard season in 2010.

Blount might have been a one-hit wonder, but the point is you don’t need to use a first- or second-round pick to get a running back that can help immediately.

Guys such as Oklahoma State’s Joseph Randle, Rutgers’ Jawan Jamison, Stanford’s Stepfan Taylor, Florida’s Mike Gillislee, Michigan State’s Le’Veon Bell, Nevada’s Stefphon Jefferson, Wisconsin’s Montee Ball and UCLA’s Jonathan Franklin will likely be available anytime from the late second round on, a place where salaries aren't that high.

They all have their merits, and each has his flaws. But the Falcons don’t need a perfect running back.

They just need someone that can complement what Rodgers brings to help them take the next step forward, because they’ve gone as far as they can with Turner.

Mike Smith stands by Michael Turner

November, 20, 2012
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Running back Michael Turner has become a very sensitive subject for the Atlanta Falcons.

That’s understandable. For the previous four seasons, Turner was the backbone of Atlanta’s offense. This season, however, age appears to be catching up to Turner. He’s looked slow at times and Atlanta’s running game hasn’t been much of a factor in most games.

Mike Smith, who generally is one of the more pleasant coaches in the NFL, got a little defensive Monday when asked by the media if the Falcons were starting to phase Turner out and give more playing time to second-year pro Jacquizz Rodgers.

"No, it doesn’t,’’ Smith said. “Guys, again, I think we’ve been very transparent from the very beginning. I’ve been saying this since April that you’re not going to look up at the end of the season and see Michael Turner having 300 carries. That’s not the type of football team we are. We may have been that type of team when we first got here, but we’re a completely different football team and I think our statistics and our ratios define that. We’re going to be an offense that we are going to move the ball around to our different assets and we’ve got a lot of assets. Michael Turner is an asset as well as Jacquizz Rodgers and as well as Jason Snelling in our backfield.’’

Smith is right in saying that the Falcons have been transparent about this being a year of change for their offensive philosophy. Soon after coordinator Dirk Koetter was hired in January, he indicated the Falcons would go with more of a pass-first approach. And Smith was a little conservative in saying April was when the Falcons first began signaling a reduced work load for Turner. I remember him talking about limiting Turner’s carries during the NFL owners meeting in March and he may have hinted at it even before that.

But a big part of the logic behind all that was to attempt to keep Turner fresh all season. Turner has shown little to indicate the new approach is helping him. In the past, he was the kind of running back that needed a bunch of carries to really have an impact. Smith is right when he says the Falcons aren’t that kind of team anymore.

Still, on days like Sunday when quarterback Matt Ryan was throwing five interceptions, it would have been nice to turn back to Turner -- or even Rodgers and Snelling -- and the ground game. That didn’t happen. The Falcons managed only 58 yards rushing against the Cardinals.

I strongly suspect you’ll see major changes in Atlanta’s backfield in the offseason and there could be moves on the offensive line that will be designed to improve the run game. But, for the time being, I don’t think you’re going to see any miracle cures or dramatic changes in playing time.

If the Falcons thought Rodgers was a feature back, he’d already be in that role. He’s not and Turner remains there.

Perhaps more than ever the Falcons need to realize they’re a pass-first offense. Of course, they can’t afford to throw five interceptions (or anything close to that) going forward because they can’t turn back to the running game to bail them out.

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