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Jackson gives Falcons offense another weapon

Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Atlanta Falcons running back Steven Jackson (39) waits for practice to begin at the Atlanta Falcons Complex in Flowery Branch Tuesday.

Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Atlanta Falcons running back Steven Jackson (39) waits for practice to begin at the Atlanta Falcons Complex in Flowery Branch Tuesday.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Atlanta Falcons running back Steven Jackson (39), right, laughs with teammate Kevin Cone (15) while stretching during practice at the Atlanta Falcons Complex in Flowery Branch Tuesday.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Atlanta Falcons running back Steven Jackson (39) looks on during practice at the Atlanta Falcons Complex in Flowery Branch Tuesday.

FLOWERY BRANCH -- The Atlanta Falcons' offense has not had much change over the years since Matt Ryan and company took hold of the unit.

During the team's first day of mini camp on Tuesday, the biggest difference was the addition of running back Steven Jackson and the absence of veteran Tony Gonzalez.

"The guys here have really welcomed me. The transition after you get acquainted with the town, moved in, and settled in place, football is football," Jackson said. "You have to build that camaraderie, which will happen now, going into the season."

Jackson is a 10-year veteran entering his first season with the Falcons after being signed as a free agent in the offseason. He's expected to enhance an already talented offense that features Ryan, Gonzalez and receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White.

Gonzalez, a 17-year veteran in the NFL, will miss all of mini camp, but head coach Mike Smith was fine with that.

"Tony has been doing this for a long time," Smith said. "He's 37 years old. There's no reason not to be resting his body and getting ready for the regular season."

Gonzalez was expected to retire after last season. But after the Falcons reached the NFC Championship game, he announced he would return for one more season to try and reach the Super Bowl.

The team's chances of reaching the Super Bowl got a boost when Jackson was signed in March. In nine years with the St. Louis Rams, Jackson became the team's all-time leading rusher with 10,135 yards. He's now adapting to the Falcons' offense.

"Steven is a pro, he's been doing this a long time," Smith said. "He's picked it up very well. I think when he hears it one more time, he'll have it down completely. There's a lot to it and it's different to what he was doing in St. Louis in terms of what our verbiage is, but he has had very few mental busts in training camp."

Jackson is replacing Michael Turner, who was released from the team in March. While Jackson has been one of the league's top rushers, he's also built a reputation as an outstanding pass catcher. He caught 90 passes in 2006 and has had 38 or more catches every year since then.

"That will help us immensely," Smith said. "You don't have to change backs. You don't have to have that change of pace back or that receiving back. He's a guy that can catch the ball out of the backfield. He's a big guy and when he gets his shoulders going north and south, he's a tough guy to tackle."

Jackson rushed for 1,042 yards last year to give him his eighth-straight 1,000-yard rushing season. That kind of production will complement Ryan, who threw for 4,719 yards and 32 TDs last year.

"Defenses are really going to have to choose what they are going to take away from us," Jackson said. "Whatever they decide, I think we have personnel and weaponry to exploit what they are going to give us."