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Anderson seeking first sack

POSTED: November 7, 2007 5:05 a.m.

FLOWERY BRANCH — So much is right in Jamaal Anderson’s life as a professional football player.

Instead of taking classes as a senior at Arkansas, Anderson is a 21-year-old millionaire starting at defensive end for the Atlanta Falcons.

The sudden influx of cash, however, hasn’t kept the NFL’s No. 8 overall draft pick from lacking accomplishment.

Anderson still seeks his first sack.

"It’s been real frustrating not getting any at all," he said. "All the coaches tell me not to worry about it, just keep playing, but I’m very hard on myself. They say you can be your hardest critic, and that’s how I envision myself."

When Atlanta (1-6) hosts San Francisco (2-5) on Sunday, Anderson may have his best chance yet. The 49ers have allowed 26 sacks, third most in the league.

Opponents have tackled quarterbacks Alex Smith and Trent Dilfer for a combined minus-187 yards, but the Falcons’ pass rush is far from punishing. Atlanta has just nine sacks, second-fewest in the NFC and 28th overall.

Right end John Abraham, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, has maintained his high standards with five sacks, but injuries have sidelined star tackle Rod Coleman, who led all NFL interior linemen with 44.5 sacks, for five games.

Jonathan Babineaux, Coleman’s backup, is the only other defensive lineman with a sack.

During the first month of the season, Abraham occasionally would tease Anderson, but as the Falcons’ losses have mounted, the jokes have stopped.

"I’m serious," Abraham said. "He’s got to step up. They gave him some money, so it’s time to show some improvement. That’s what this league is all about. I’m not saying we’re trying to make him stress about it, but if we’re going to do what we want to do, everybody’s got to contribute."

Anderson also has the unenviable task of trying to replace Patrick Kerney, who left as a free agent for Seattle in March. In eight seasons with the Falcons, Kerney had 58 sacks, third-most in franchise history behind Claude Humphrey and Chuck Smith.

If it’s any consolation to Anderson, Kerney entered his third year with just five career sacks. That’s why Abraham, a veteran of eight seasons and a 13th overall draft pick for the New York Jets in 2000, wants the rookie to keep expectations in perspective.

"I’m not saying it’s just about sacks, but making plays," Abraham said. "However it comes isn’t up to any one certain thing. You don’t have to have a four-sack game to say you belong up here with us, but you have to play your technique right and do everything that the coaches ask. If you do that well, then you’ll be OK."

Anderson also realizes that defensive ends, fairly or unfairly, are essentially judged by their sack totals. Cornerbacks face the same scrutiny regarding how many interceptions they have, but Anderson’s first concern is trying not to force a sack situation if it’s not in front of him.

"One thing I need to work on is a lower pad level," Anderson said. "I’ve been running high. I’ve faced a lot more play-action as well. Sometimes I’ve kind of been caught in between, thinking it’s run and it’s really a play-action, so I’m just busy trying to work on converting. That’s been the main thing. I’ve been able to get off (from a stance) pretty well, but the game’s still a little fast for me right now."

Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer told Anderson from his first day that the team wanted him to concentrate first on stopping the run.

"I haven’t always been (lined up) outside the tight end," Anderson said. "They put me in a lot more different run supports than I’ve ever played, so it’s just been an adjustment for me to convert from (going against) pass protection to the run thing."

Another factor working against Anderson is the experience of veteran offensive linemen who disguise protection schemes, so he’s often as frustrated before the snap as he is after.

"It’s tough, but my teammates know I’m out there working hard every day and trying to get better," he said. "They’re still pushing me. They know eventually it’s going to come and that sacks come in bunches. And when the first one finally comes, it’ll be a huge weight off my shoulders."


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