Work in Sports
Anderson confident, but Falcons remain cautious
By Don Banks, Sports Illustrated
The hits have come and gone this preseason. So too have the questions about how he will absorb the pounding.
For Jamal Anderson, there has been no escaping the bounce-back factor.
But after almost 50 weeks of wondering and worrying, the time for running in place is over. All that remains for Anderson is what he happens to know best: lowering his head and moving forward. From here on, drive and determination will decide the relative success or failure of his comeback from last year's season-ending torn ACL knee surgery.
Starting Sunday in the Georgia Dome, they will be keeping track of his progress, with the results plainly self-evident. The numbers will help tell us whether the Atlanta Falcons' seventh-year running back has won his personal battle against a wounded knee, which began last September on a Monday night in Dallas.
"I feel like my knee is holding up and the strength is there, and I have that explosion in getting to the outside, with the burst and the cutback," Anderson said late last week, after putting the finishing touches on his preseason in the Falcons' defeat of Jacksonville.
"I feel like all of that is coming back to me, and it's a good feeling. It really is, and I assess it all after every play. I feel better each and every week and that's something I've been focusing on. I feel like I'm ready to go into the first week against San Francisco and play the game. I'm excited about this game. I really am."
Anderson's numbers this preseason told a modest little tale. In playing the final three of Atlanta's five exhibition games, he rushed 18 times for 35 yards (less than 2.0 per carry) and caught five passes for 41 yards. Other indicators, Anderson said, were more encouraging.
"Don't worry," he said, wagging his head. "I'll lose that 2.0 stuff quickly. Quickly. Please. The last time I had a great preseason numbers-wise was '97, and I barely had 1,000 yards that season [1,002].
"It's hard for me to describe. But like an artist when you're painting a picture, everything just becomes so clear again. I feel like my vision, and my reads and my feel for the game are all where they need to be going into the regular season."
How much will the Falcons trust Anderson's early season judgment that he could handle 20 to 30 carries, if need be against the 49ers this week? There is clearly some caution in coach Dan Reeves' voice. Reeves said Anderson's conditioning remains subpar, and that he'll be spelled often by newly acquired running back Ron Rivers and rookie Maurice Smith.
"We've got three tailbacks who can do the job," Reeves said. "I think Jamal's made progress every week. I think he's confident that he's ready and that he's back. I think he'll get better as he continues to get in better playing condition."
Progress that must now be transformed into production. Anderson, the-bent but-not-broken version, is back with just that goal.