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Finneran setback opens door for Robinson with Falcons
ATLANTA — The Atlanta Falcons don’t know if Brian Finneran will be ready for the 2007 season, but new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson says he still feels good about his wide receivers following a strong mini-camp by rookie Laurent Robinson.
Finneran, who missed last season with a severe knee injury that required surgery, hurt his knee again last weekend while going through rehabilitation.
Jackson said the team was waiting on medical tests to determine the severity of the setback.
‘‘Hopefully we’ll know more soon,’’ Jackson said Tuesday.
Finneran led the team’s receivers in 2005 with 60 catches and 611 yards.
Finneran signed a four-year, $8 million contract in March 2006, including $3 million in guaranteed money. Only four months later, he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and suffered cartilage damage and a slight displacement of the knee cap.
The loss of Finneran hurt as the Falcons finished last in the NFL in passing in 2006. Two former first-round picks — Michael Jenkins and Roddy White — failed to emerge as consistent threats.
New coach Bobby Petrino plans for a more balanced offense — and more depth at receiver — this year.
The Falcons signed former New Orleans Saints star Joe Horn, 35, in March and selected Robinson (6-2, 199) in the third round of last month’s draft. Another free-agent newcomer, former Georgia star Fred Gibson, signed in February.
Robinson made a strong first impression at the Falcons’ mini-camp last week.
Robinson, from Division I-AA Illinois State, doesn’t have major college experience, but Jackson said he has NFL talent.
‘‘I think we got this one right,’’ Jackson said of the draft pick.
Jackson said Robinson stood out in mini-camp ‘‘just with his speed, his explosiveness, his ability to catch the ball and the fact I don’t think he’s intimidated by the surroundings.
‘‘He had a very, very good mini-camp and he was what we thought we drafted.’’
Horn is expected to lead the receivers, statistically and in other ways.
‘‘What I love about Joe Horn, guys should go out to compete and I think Joe sets the tempo for that,’’ Jackson said.
Gibson, a fourth-round pick by Pittsburgh in 2005 who spent last year on the Miami Dolphins’ practice squad, may have a better chance to make the Falcons’ active roster.
‘‘He’s been great,’’ Jackson said of Gibson. ‘‘I don’t know what the knock was on Fred. I’m just glad he’s here now. He’s really working hard and doing everything we’re asking him to do. He’s in the competition and that’s the beautiful thing, there is a competition.’’
Jackson said there is enough depth at receiver, even if Finneran can’t play.
‘‘I haven’t had an opportunity to really be around Brian other than us meeting and getting to know him a little bit,’’ Jackson said. ‘‘I haven’t had the opportunity to work with him on the field and you can’t miss what you’ve never had. I’m not concerned about that but would I love to have him, yes.’’
Finneran has played in 86 games with 35 starts for Atlanta. He has 187 career catches for 2,647 yards and 15 touchdowns.
By Charles Odum
AP Sports Writer