GREENVILLE, S.C. -- At the Atlanta Falcons training camp this week, the offensive backfield in is order for the first time since mid-December. At least, that's how fullback Bob Christian sees things.
Christian, whose 1998 season ended with a knee injury in game 14, has been at full speed since day one of camp. Tailback Jamal Anderson has now been in full pads for two days after ending a two-week contract holdout.
That gives the Falcons the backfield punch that helped to forge last year's 14-2 regular-season record and march to the Super Bowl.
"It's funny, actually, but I miss postseason play and he misses the preseason. It's good to be back together again," said the eight-year veteran from Northwestern, whose powerful blocking was sorely missed by the Falcons in the playoffs.
Christian injured his left knee Dec. 13 against New Orleans and had arthoscopic surgery a few weeks later to repair the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments.
Despite missing the run to the Super Bowl, he calls the ordeal's outcome "miraculous" because the knee didn't require full reconstruction.
"The doctor thought that if they had to reconstruct, I might not ever be back," Christian said.
Many thought that Anderson might not be back, either. But the six-year veteran and number-two NFL rusher last season (1,846 yards) signed a five-year contract last Wednesday and immediately joined the team.
After sitting out Friday's preseason opening win over Detroit, he donned pads Monday for the first time. "The last two days Jam's picked up where he left off last season," Christian said.
"He's a little rusty, has a few things to polish up, but he's looking extremely good for just a couple of days in camp. He's getting used to working with everyone, and getting a good feel for the blocking."
The only question is when Anderson's first preseason game will be. The Falcons host Baltimore on Saturday and travel to Tennessee the following Friday.
"It's a matter of how he feels and how they (coaches) feel about him," Christian said. "Mentally he knows what he's doing and physically he looks good. But it's not my job to make the decision -- I'll make my blocks for whoever is playing behind me.
"Most traditional fullbacks are lead blockers, paving the way for the halfback. So except for change-up plays, that's what I do most."
That and catching short-yardage passes. For his two seasons in Atlanta, Christian has more receptions (41) than rushes (15).
"The passing game is fun," he said. "It's the best chance of getting my hands on the ball and I love that. And passing is something you always can improve on because there are so many things to learn -- how to get open against a particular team, when to sit in a hole and when to come out."
Christian said it's also important in the passing game to be ready when the quarterback needs you. "Most of their reads are downfield to the wideouts, so when they have to come back to us they need the confidence that we'll be there and will catch it."
Regardless of the role he's called on to take, Christian is the right guy for it, says head coach Dan Reeves.
"He's a key part of our offense (because) he does a great job in all areas. They don't come any better - I wish I had 53 more like him. Jamal likes to have him there because he knows he's gonna block well for him," he added.
Notes: The Falcons held only an afternoon full-pad practice Tuesday and will repeat the schedule Wednesday. . . The injury list continues to include wide receiver Chris Calloway (ankle), tight end O.J. Santiago (leg), defensive end Chuck Smith (toe), defense tackle Ben Huff (foot), and cornerback Elijah Williams (knee). Linebacker Henri Crockett, who started in the Detroit game Friday, missed a second day of practice due to knee trouble . . . The 80-man Atlanta roster currently shows 54 veterans, nine first-year players, and 17 rookies. The linebacker and wide receiver corps has the highest percentage of new players, each with four out of 10.
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