What Michael Jenkins' Return Means to the Atlanta Falcons
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Michael Jenkins is not a headlining player who strikes fear in the hearts of opposing defenses.
In fact, most fans outside of Atlanta—and those who followed him at Ohio State—probably do not even know who he is.
Despite this, he is a valuable component of the Falcons' offense, and his return to the field from a shoulder injury that has kept him out of action since the preseason should make the offense better.
Jenkins has developed a reputation as a guy with a pass-dropping problem, but he has also made a number of tough catches in crucial situations throughout his career, and his biggest strength is not in being a go-to receiver.
His most important contribution to the team will be his run blocking, which he excels at.
Atlanta is a running team. They aim to control the clock, play solid defense, and make plays when they need to.
They do have the capability of being explosive, though.
Michael Turner is a great running back, not only because of his ability to wear down a defense, but also because he is able to break off big runs.
Where Jenkins can help him is in holding off a member of the defensive secondary, even for just another second or two, allowing "The Burner" to rip through the defense toward the end zone.
Obviously a solid receiver stands to benefit quarterback Matt Ryan, but another member of the offense who will enjoy his return is Harry Douglas.
Douglas was thrust into the role of a No. 2 receiver when Jenkins went down, and has not been able to do much in five games, catching just 11 passes for 147 yards and a touchdown.
Jenkins will take back his starting spot, allowing Douglas to go back to playing in the slot, where he was during his 2008 rookie campaign. It is a much better fit for his six-foot, 182 pound frame.
Douglas missed 2009 after tearing his ACL in training camp, and while he was not spectacular in 2008, he did show flashes of potential.
In a Week 6 game against Chicago, Douglas grabbed five balls for 96 yards, and in Week 12 facing Carolina he had four catches for 92 yards.
Putting him back in the slot allows him to take advantage of his quickness, and will also have him matched up against a nickel corner or safety.
Add in that Atlanta did not have Tony Gonzalez in 2008, and that Roddy White is making his case for best receiver in the league in 2010, and Douglas will likely get less attention paid to him by defenses this time around.
Jenkins also had his best year, in terms of yardage, in 2008, with 777 receiving yards, when Douglas was manning the slot.
With Douglas out last season, the Falcons were forced to play Brian Finneran as their No. 3, which they have also had to do this year with Jenkins out.
Finneran is a solid possession guy, but he is not your prototypical slot receiver as he lacks burst, something Douglas does not.
What all this means is that a team that is sitting at 4-1, with a defense that is playing as one of the best in the NFL, is about to get better.
The offense hasn't been putting up huge scoring numbers, but they have been able to make the plays they need to make.
It will likely take Jenkins a few games to get back to game speed and to get used to getting hit again, but everyone on the offense stands to benefit immediately from his return.
He's another guy defenses need to pay attention to on an offense that has a top-notch young quarterback, one of the best running backs around, possibly the best receiver in the league and a Hall of Fame tight end.
The Falcons could be crossing into scary-good territory.
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