3rd in The Bird Cage Training Camp Battle Series, Battle for Running Back #2: Jason Snelling vs. Jerious Norwood. Should be a great competition and whoever “wins” may be much more in the Falcons long-term plans.
One of the best battles that has developed the last couple of years on the Atlanta Falcons roster is the competition for the main backup duties at running back. One of GM Thomas Dimitroff’s first moves was to snag Michael Turner in free agency to be the stud running back he eventually became. The campaign for the main backup duties will be at an all-time pitch this camp. Jerious Norwood was long the Falcons central backup with his excellent speed that provided a great complement as a change-of-pace back and was a homerun threat every time he touched the ball. Recent injury history to Norwood opened the door for long valued running back Jason Snelling, who proved to be a very valuable asset and an essential part of the Falcons winning their final 3 games to break the ridiculous curse, particularly the final game in Tampa Bay that looked very bleak at times. Obviously, both running backs will make he squad and offensive coordinator will try to get both as many touches as possible, but this battle has long-term implications as well. Both were re-upped as restricted free agents this past year and its extremely unlikely that both will be retained when they become unrestricted free agents (excluding the obvious NFL-Player Union gridlock). Which one will it be?
Drafted in 2006, Norwood has been lightning in a bottle since donning red and black. He is one of the best homerun threats in the entire NFL and proved early in his career to be a threat both in the running and passing attack. #32 racked up 1,700 yards rushing coupled with 7 TDs and 700 yards receiving with 2 TDs from 2006 to 2008. It was a forgone conclusion that the Falcons would try their best to keep Norwood as a number 2 running back, but it was widely believed that he could carry the entire load as a feature back for another team.
Injuries took their toll both on Norwood’s production and playing time. He played in only 10 games (even though starting 4) and netted a paltry 252 yards rushing and 186 yards receiving and failing to register 1 touchdown on the ground. Many feel that Jason Snelling has supplanted Norwood as the true number 2 after he took over the job in the final stretch and that this might be Norwood’s last year in Atlanta. However, it’s also a widely held belief among fans that much of the blame falls at Mike Mularkey’s feet for failing to utilize him correctly. The OC rarely called screens or created situations to get #32 in space and even trying him at slot receiver. If Norwood can have a great 2010 campaign, then maybe he can retake his former position and be the long-term complement many had hoped.
A star was born and discovered last year in Michael Turner’s absence with Jason Snelling. He only got two starts, but made an emphatic case for being the Falcons primary backup going forward. He racked up almost 900 total yards 4 rushing touchdowns and 1 receiving touchdown. #44 proved to be more than a bruising, between-the-tackles running back. He showed great agility for a big RB (5’11, 223) and that he can excel in the passing attack as well as the running game. He’s not a pure complement to Michael Turner in being a speedy change-of-pace back, but he proved it on the field that he can be highly productive. The Falcons have Antone Smith in camp that could take over Norwood’s speed role if he were to exit.
Even though possible, its highly unlikely that the Falcons can keep Turner, Snelling, and Norwood forever, and Snelling seemingly has taken the lead in securing a prominent role in the Falcons future. Some may argue that Snelling’s production was only a by-product of Turner’s absence and that keeping him over the faster homerun threat of Norwood would be a mistake since Snelling and Turner are essentially the same type back. Throw in the fact that much of Norwood’s underproduction could be attributed to Mike Mularkey and some believe that Norwood deserves to be in the Birds future, over Snelling. However, Snelling seems to be the more productive, more reliable, and probably has a lead on Norwood unless something drastically changes.
-Who will get more touches and become Turner’s main backup?
-Who should be the Falcons second running back and get more carries?
-Is there a possibility that the Birds can keep all three?
-Who’s more likely to be in the Falcons future?
-Was Norwood’s low production due to Mularkey’s play-calling?
-May Snelling look to be another team’s feature back at some point?