Moments after the January press conference at which Dan Reeves
was introduced as the Falcons' coach, running back Jamal
Anderson grabbed a TV cameraman and walked up to his new boss.
"Coach Reeves," said the big ballcarrier, "our viewers want to
know how excited you are to have Jamal Anderson as your running
Reeves wasn't fooled by Anderson's impersonation of a
broadcaster, but for a coach who is shelving the run-and-shoot
offense for a smash-mouth attack, the question was an easy one.
Last season Anderson, a seventh-round pick out of Utah in 1994,
rushed for 1,055 yards (4.6 per carry, second in the league
behind the Lions' Barry Sanders), caught 49 passes for 473 yards
and scored six touchdowns.
"He laughed," Anderson says of Reeves's reaction to the TV
stunt. "Then the first thing he said to me, before he even said
hello was, 'Are you in good shape, Jamal? I sure hope so.'"
Despite being only a part-time participant at the team's 15-week
off-season conditioning program, Anderson reported to training
camp a fit 235 pounds and was delighted to see that the
run-and-shoot had truly been mothballed. For the first time
since '89 more backs than receivers were in the Falcons' camp.
"It's like a convoy now when we run the ball," says Anderson,
who was the 24th running back selected in '94. "I have a
fullback and a tight end, a blocker for every tackler. I can't
help but think that we're going to kill people with this kind of
Anderson combines size and speed with one of the nastiest
stiff-arms in the league, a move he learned when he was nine. It
came courtesy of his father, James, the owner of a Los Angeles
security service whose clients have included Muhammad Ali, Sugar
Ray Leonard and Boyz II Men. "Jamal can be something special,"
says Reeves. "And we need him--yes, we do. A new system can help
you get better quick. But [without the right personnel] it can
also make you bad fast."
After qualifying for the playoffs as a wild card two seasons
ago, Atlanta got bad fast. Last year featured a bitter power
struggle early in the season between coach June Jones and
quarterback Jeff George. George's sideline outburst during a
Sept. 22 game against the Eagles led to his suspension and then
his release, and all but sealed Jones's fate as well. The
Falcons lost their first eight games and finished 3-13.
Reeves came on board as coach and executive vice president of
football operations after four seasons with the Giants in which
his teams went 31-33. He has won five division championships and
gone to three Super Bowls--all with the Broncos--during a
16-year NFL coaching career and leads active coaches in wins,
with 141. But in '95 and '96 the Giants' offense ranked 29th and
30th in the league, respectively.
To direct his Falcons offense, Reeves acquired journeyman
quarterback Chris Chandler from the Oilers. Atlanta is
Chandler's sixth stop during a 10-year NFL career. To beef up
the running game, he signed Harold Green, a former 1,000-yard
rusher (albeit in 1992) who spent last season with the Rams.
Reeves also used a second-round draft choice on Texas Tech
running back Byron Hanspard, who last year became only the sixth
player in Division I history to rush for more than 2,000 yards
in a season. In three seasons Hanspard averaged 5.7 yards a
carry and scored 33 rushing touchdowns. He's also a proven
receiver, as evidenced by the 35 receptions and seven touchdown
catches he had during his sophomore season, in 1995. His
blink-and-he's-gone speed is a perfect complement to Anderson's
Before a recent practice Hanspard, who became a Pentecostal
minister at 19, spoke of the Falcons' making the playoffs in
'97. "I am a person of faith," he said, "so I don't put limits
on what the Lord can do."
If Atlanta can't establish a running game, it might take an act
of God for the Falcons to reach .500.
COLOR PHOTO: ALLEN KEE/BRSP A seventh-round draft choice in 1994, Anderson was second in the league in rushing yards per carry last season with a 4.6-yard average. [Jamal Anderson]
BY THE NUMBERS
1996 Yards per Game (NFL rank)
1996 Record: 3-13 (fourth in NFC West)
Rushing Passing Total
OFFENSE 91.3 (27) 228.4 (9) 319.8 (17)
DEFENSE 127.6 (26) 234.1 (27) 361.6 (29)
Morten Andersen's missed 30-yard field goal attempt in the
closing seconds of the Falcons' 1996 finale was significant for
three reasons: It cost Atlanta a win, it sent Jacksonville into
the playoffs, and it ended Andersen's NFL-record streak of 62
consecutive field goals from 30 yards or closer.
Longest Streaks of Successful Field Goal Attempts from 30 Yards
Dates Field goals
Morten Andersen Nov. 6, 1989, through Nov. 3, 1996 62
Norm Johnson Oct. 21, 1990, through Sept. 16, 1996 58
Pat Leahy Nov. 11, 1984, through Nov. 26, 1989 52
Matt Stover Dec. 22, 1991, through Dec. 15, 1996 48*
Nick Lowery Sept. 28, 1992, through Dec. 14, 1996 42*
Six of the Falcons' first seven games are against playoff
contenders. Then, in November, Atlanta plays five teams that had
losing records in 1996, which turns out to be the trickiest part
of the schedule. If the Falcons win too many games under Dan
Reeves, they'll miss out on the opportunity to select coveted
Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning in the '98 draft.
STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE
NFL rank: 13 (tied)
Opponents' 1996 winning percentage: .504
Games against playoff teams: 6
The Lineup With 1996 Statistics
Coach: Dan Reeves
QB Chris Chandler[**]320 att. 184 comp. 57.5% 2,099 yds.
16 TDs 11 int. 79.7 rtg.
RB Jamal Anderson 232 att. 1,055 yds. 4.6 avg. 49 rec.
473 yds. 9.7 avg. 6 TDs
FB Bob Christian*[**]41 att. 158 yds. 3.9 avg. 29 rec.
255 yds. 8.8 avg. 1 TD
Receivers, Specialists, Offensive Linemen
WR Terance Mathis 69 rec. 771 yds. 7 TDs
WR Bert Emanuel 75 rec. 921 yds. 6 TDs
WR Michael Haynes[**] 44 rec. 786 yds. 4 TDs
TE Ed West[**] 8 rec. 91 yds. 0 TDs
PK Morten Andersen 31/31 PATs 22/29 FGs 97 pts.
KR Byron Hanspard (R)[**] 330 rush att. 2,084 yds. 13 TDs
PR Todd Kinchen[**] 26 ret. 11.5 avg. 0 TDs
LT Bob Whitfield 6'5" 310 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
LG Robbie Tobeck 6'4" 295 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
C Roman Fortin 6'5" 297 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RG Gene Williams 6'2" 306 lbs. 10 games 0 starts
RT Antone Davis 6'4" 330 lbs. 16 games 10 starts
LE Lester Archambeau 55 tackles 2 sacks
LT Travis Hall 51 tackles 6 sacks
RT Dan Owens 65 tackles 5 1/2 sacks
RE Chuck Smith 40 tackles 6 sacks
OLB Cornelius Bennett 60 tackles 3 sacks
MLB Jessie Tuggle 114 tackles 1 sack
OLB David Brandon 17 tackles 1 sack
CB Ray Buchanan[**] 62 tackles 2 int.
SS William White[**] 21 tackles 0 int.
FS Devin Bush 59 tackles 1 int.
CB Ronnie Bradford[**] 61 tackles 0 int.
P Dan Stryzinski 75 punts 42.0 avg.
[**] New acquisition
Rookie statistics for final college year