Jackson plans to improve Falcons’ ground game

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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) - Mike Smith knows his Falcons finished last in the NFL in rushing last season. The coach just has a difficult time saying the words.

“We were a number I don’t even want to talk about in terms of where we were statistically,” Smith said Wednesday, the second day of the team’s organized team activities.

The ugly numbers - 77.9 yards rushing per game and 32nd in the league in rushing - played big roles in Atlanta’s disappointing 4-12 finish.

In his first season in Atlanta, running back Steven Jackson missed four games with a hamstring injury. Jackson said he doesn’t want to be known as the running back on the league’s worst rushing attack.

“Definitely by no means do we want to be known for that and we don’t want to have another year like that,” Jackson said.

A healthy Jackson says the top item on his to-do list is an improved running game in 2014.

Jackson, who will be 31 when the 2014 season opens, ran for only 543 yards and six touchdowns. That ended a streak of eight straight 1,000-yard seasons with the Rams.

The Falcons added competition for Jackson by selecting Florida State running back Devonta Freeman in the fourth round of the NFL draft.

Other important additions for the running game were the first-round pick, offensive tackle Jake Matthews, and free-agent addition Jon Asamoah.

In Wednesday’s practice, Jackson was running behind a first-team offensive line that included Matthews at right tackle and Asamoah at right guard.

Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said he doesn’t believe Jackson’s decline in 2013 was about the running back turning 30.

“There’s enough statistical data out there that there’s something to 30-plus running backs,” Koetter said. “With that said, Steven Jackson is a freak of nature. Because we didn’t run well, everybody blames the running back first. Trust me, as somebody who has studied it a lot, it’s not always the running back’s fault when you don’t run the ball well.

“He always keeps himself in great shape. I haven’t been around a whole lot of guys who do a better job of taking care of their body and staying in shape.”

Koetter said newcomers on the offensive line are “the main thing” for an improved ground game. Mike Tice was hired as the new offensive line coach.

“I think the adjustments we made, the guys we added up front, the addition of coach Tice and my ability to do what I can and stay healthy - I think we’ll be quite all right,” Jackson said.

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