For much of the 2009 season the Falcons running game was a sports car forced to operate without the super-charged engine.
Pro Bowl running back Michael Turner injured his ankle in a Week 9 game at Carolina and carried the ball only 13 times for 40 yards over the final seven contests. He was inactive for the last two, leaving the majority of carries to Jerious Norwood and Jason Snelling.
With that combination, the Falcons got the job done but it took a few games to find a groove.
Atlanta failed to rush for more than 100 yards as a team in the five games following Turner’s initial injury (frustrating for a team that finished 2008 No. 2 in the NFL in rushing). Three of those were losses.
But, in the final game of the season, Snelling, a seventh-round draft pick out of Virginia, found lanes behind fullback Ovie Mughelli and got the team’s running game on track heading into 2010.
Snelling’s game was drawing comparisons to that of Christian Okoye in the press box at Raymond James Stadium as he rushed for a career-high 147 yards and iced a win over the Bucs with key first-down runs in the final four minutes.
“Jason Snelling, I think, had an outstanding year,” Head Coach Mike Smith said. “With the injuries, first to Jerious Norwood early in the season, aloud him an opportunity to play. Then when Michael Turner went down he had to step in and get more reps there. He also had to play a couple of games at the fullback position when we lost Ovie Mughelli. Jason does a number of things extremely well. His skill set allows him to play both the tailback and the fullback. He’s been a very valuable member of our team this year.”
Here are details about each of the running backs on the roster (including the practice squad) at the close of the 2009 season…
Jason Snelling: A punishing runner that showed versatility and toughness. He played most of the game in Carolina after Turner went down with an injury even though he was only scheduled to get less than 20 snaps… Offense and special teams. Finished the year with 142 carries for 613 yards and four touchdowns.
Michael Turner: Maybe the “Curse of 360″ is real. Many running backs who have more than 360 carries in one season don’t do great the next. Turner had 376 in 2008 and rushed for 1,699 yards. He fought an ankle injury for much of 2009 but still led the team with 871 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns. Oh, what could have been…
Aaron Stecker: Signed when the team was facing injuries to Turner and Norwood, Stecker contributed on special teams and in the passing game. He carried the ball five times for 15 yards and caught five passes for 34 yards.
Jerious Norwood: Slowed by a concussion and then a hip injury, Norwood didn’t show as many flashes of his breakaway speed in 2009.
Antone Smith: Spent time on the Falcons practice squad in 2009. Originally signed by the Detroit Lions. Left Florida State ranking eighth in school history with 2,253 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns.
Ovie Mughelli: Played in 14 games for the Falcons leading the way for three different feature backs. Caught seven passes for 51 yards and a touchdown. Also got four carries, mostly in short-yardage situations.
Verron Haynes: Spent time on and off the game day roster in 2009. Veteran back and former Georgia player had three catches for 20 yards.
Now it’s your turn…