First it was wide receiver/kick returner Harry Douglas. Then it was defensive tackle Peria Jerry. Now in defensive back Brian Williams, the Falcons have lost a third key player for the season -- all to knee injuries. In last season's miracle turnaround, the Falcons didn't really face a test of their depth like this. They lost offensive tackle Sam Baker for a couple of games, but otherwise, almost all of their key players remained healthy.
This season, if you were to take the 11 offensive starters, 11 defensive starters and throw in the team's top few reserves/special teams players (excluding kickers), I think you would see a much different picture in terms of injuries. The Falcons will have to manage without the three above mentioned players and have -- minus the first two -- ably.
And while their injuries have not been season-ending, fullback Ovie Mughelli (calf) and Jerious Norwood (concussion) each have missed games. Safeties Antoine Harris and William Moore, both special teams contributors, have also missed games. On Wednesday, Head Coach Mike Smith will give more details about the readiness of that foursome for Sunday's game at Dallas, as Norwood suffered a hip flexor injury against the Bears and Moore injured his hamstring.
The great success story thus far, as Head Coach Mike Smith pointed out today when speaking specifically about special teams, is that that unit excelled against Chicago on Sunday in spite of the injuries. Like most coaches, Smith continually points out that injuries necessarily create opportunities for back-ups. It's a cliche, but it's true. This is where NFL personnel departments prove their mettle.
Imagine the horror that New England Patriots fans felt back in 2001 when -- gasp! -- then-three-time Pro-Bowl quarterback Drew Bledsoe was lost for the season to injury and some back-up named Tom Brady was forced into action. Or, again, the horror felt by Patriots fans in 2008 when Brady was hurt and Matt Cassel was forced into action. New England missed the playoffs last season, but still won 11 games.
The truth is that NFL rosters are small -- only 53 players compared to the 85 scholarship players that NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision are allowed and that does not include walk-ons. So NFL reserves are great athletes in their own right.
The Falcons already have seen evidence of that this season in running back Jason Snelling, who has been an able substitute for Norwood and Mughelli, and in Eric Weems as Douglas' replacement returning kicks.
Only time will tell if the same is true of Williams' potential replacements: Tye Hill, Chevis Jackson and Christopher Owens.