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Falcons: Anderson putting rookie disappointments behind him
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FLOWERY BRANCH — Jamaal Anderson is willing to talk about his expectations for 2008.
Ask him what happened in his rookie season, and the Atlanta Falcons' defensive end changes the subject.

"It's a new year, and I'm not trying to think about it," Anderson said Monday. "We've got a lot of people bringing it up, but it's a new year."

Atlanta drafted Anderson No. 8 overall after his junior year at Arkansas. In his final season of college, Anderson led the Southeastern Conference and ranked third in the nation with 13.5 sacks.

He started all 16 games during the Falcons' dismal 4-12 finish, but Anderson had no sacks.

New Falcons coach Mike Smith did Anderson a favor when he hired Ray "Sugar Bear" Hamilton as defensive line coach. Hamilton, who started 110 consecutive games and racked up 54 career sacks with New England from 1973-81, brought the experience as a player and an assistant coach to restore Anderson's confidence.

Working last year under Kevin Wolthausen, Anderson had a position coach with no NFL experience.

"I learned a lot more in OTAs than I learned all last year," Anderson said. "Coach Hamilton, he played in the league and he's coached in the league for (18 years). Having him here is making all the difference in the world."

Anderson's problems were less glaring given how quickly the season unfolded for the Falcons. Quarterback Michael Vick was sent to federal prison for dogfighting. First-year head coach Bobby Petrino left in Week 14 for the head coaching job at Arkansas without speaking to his team.

On the defensive line, right end John Abraham, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, faced constant double-teams and sometimes had three opponents block him on the same play.

Petrino caused more divisiveness when he cut 350-pound Grady Jackson in late October.

After taking charge of the team in January, Smith made it an immediate priority to tell Anderson to forget about 2007 and work to make this season the turning point of his career.

"I know Jamaal has been frustrated, but we don't want him feeling stressed (over) the production he had last year," Smith said. "We've told him that's behind us. We're going to get a clean slate."

Other than a mild hamstring strain that kept Anderson sidelined a few days last week, Smith believes the 6-foot-6, 280-pound left end is making the most of his chances.

"I think the thing that you want is to make sure that you're able to do with your defensive linemen and big, strong guys like Jamaal is that he is getting up into the quarterback's face and forcing him to go somewhere else." Smith said. "That's important, and the sacks will come."

Hamilton, who worked the last five years in Jacksonville when Smith was the defensive coordinator, is trying to remake Anderson's mental and physical approach to the NFL.

"A lot of it is training your eyes to read the tackle correctly," Anderson said. "You have to watch where your hands are going because he's going to shoot at you and you have to protect yourself from getting hit. That's the main thing, to keep your hands up."

Linebacker Michael Boley, a fifth-round pick in '05 who's coming off a career year, can already see a difference in Anderson.

"He's made a lot of progress just based on how he played last year and how his energy and his enthusiasm is right now," Boley said. "You can tell he's picked it up a whole lot. I think he's geared up and ready to go."
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