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Falcons' wide receiver situation reason for panic

FLOWERY BRANCH - The Falcons could take a number of offensive approaches now that their wide receiving corps resembles the kids' table at a family feast.

Atlanta's lone proven veteran, Brian Finneran, suffered a season-ending knee injury in the opening days of camp and left behind a group of young, unproven players.

The Falcons have already entertained playing cornerback DeAngelo Hall on offense and trading for proven talents Jerry Porter or Ashley Lelie. They contacted the agent for Ricky Proehl, a veteran - and unsigned - free agent.

There is one more tact they might consider: Petition the NFL for a rule change outlawing the forward pass.

Brian Finneran's season-ending knee injury, suffered in the opening days of training camp, should not have incited panic.

Finneran was slated as the team's No. 3 wide receiver for a reason: He lacks the physical skills and talents to be a game-changer. He always has - Finneran went undrafted coming out of

Villanova.

Yet without Finneran, the Falcons lack a wideout with proven reliability. And their only other trustworthy pass catcher, tight end Alge Crumpler, is hobbling as he recovers from two offseason

surgeries.

The Falcons deserve blame for the situation. They made no attempt to bolster their group of wide receivers in the offseason. Jerome Pathon, who made one catch all of last year, was their only veteran signee.

Then again, the lack of action fits the team's philosophy. Wide receiver is not a new problem for the Falcons. They tried to address it through free agency with Peerless Price a few years back only to get burned worse than a senior citizen in a telemarketing scam.

So Rich McKay, the team's general manager, turned to the draft. He picked Michael Jenkins in the first round in 2004, Roddy White there in 2005. This April the Falcons drafted Adam Jennings in the fourth round.

All should develop into good players. But so far, their play has fallen well short of their potential. White caught 29 balls in 16 games during his rookie season. And Jenkins has a reputation - a well-earned one - for dropping as many passes as he catches.

Good hands are the most important attribute for a Falcons' wide receiver. Quarterback Michael Vick throws laser beams, and they don't always hit the target between the numbers. And each drop is another obstacle to earning the quarterback's trust.

Vick's faith in Finneran is what made the receiver invaluable. Finneran catches everything. So does Crumpler. Catch one, and more will come. That's why the tight end has led the Falcons in receptions and yards the last two seasons.

Vick spent much of the offseason trying to build similar relationships with Jenkins and White. The quarterback and his receivers worked out together several days a week. The receivers learned how a human cannon launches footballs. The quarterback got familiar with the timing of his targets' routes.

Still, training camp started ominously. Jenkins and White dropped enough balls to draw head coach Jim Mora's ire. The loss of Finneran seems to have softened their hands, however. Finneran's injury was akin to a ringing bell that must be answered by the wideouts, Vick said.

"It's changed their whole perception of the game, what their confidence level needs to be and what their job is," Vick said. "Brian was a guy I really relied on, that I had a lot of trust and faith in. They knew that. They want to get to that point."

McKay will try and find Vick another Finneran before the season starts. He will likely wait until after teams start to trim their rosters later this month. A few proven veterans will be available.

In the meantime, the Falcons can lobby for that rule change. Passing is overrated anyway.