Knee injury will sideline WR Finneran for season

Updated: July 31, 2006, 7:17 PM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

The Atlanta Falcons' worst fears were realized Monday when an MRI examination confirmed that veteran wide receiver Brian Finneran, an integral part of the team's passing game, sustained a season-ending injury during a Sunday night practice.

Brian Finneran
Finneran

Finneran, whose right knee buckled as he made a cut in a non-contact drill, will be placed on injured reserve for the year after the exam revealed a torn anterior cruciate ligament and possible ancillary damage to the knee.

The injury occurred during a one-on-one segment of practice, with Finneran working against cornerback Jimmy Williams, the team's second-round draft choice this year. Finneran went down in a heap, grabbing at the area between his knee and ankle, and was taken from the field on an emergency cart.

"It's hard to ignore what Fin does for us," Falcons coach Jim Mora told The Associated Press after Monday's practice. "Maybe he didn't have the greatest numbers, but so many of his catches were significant catches. Now, somebody else has got to make those catches."

A seven-year veteran, Finneran is the Falcons' No. 3 receiver, and is especially effective when working out of the slot. Finneran, 30, has 187 receptions for 2,647 yards and 15 touchdowns in his career, while playing in 87 games and starting 35 of them. Of his 187 catches, 131 have been for first downs. He had 50 catches for 611 yards and two touchdowns in 2005.

"[Finneran] was a big part of this offense," quarterback Michael Vick told AP. "He was a guy I had become very comfortable with. It's going to take a lot to replace him. Some other guys have got to step up."

The Falcons are not particularly deep at wide receiver and the club may have to try to sign one of the few veteran free agents still looking for work, or rely on a youngster. The most immediate candidate to fill Finneran's role in the slot is eight-year veteran Jerome Pathon, who has played sparingly over his last three seasons in the league.

"There's so many things I've been thinking about, all the great plays we made together to keep drives alive, to keep the offense moving forward," Vick told AP. "We're going to miss him. He's a hard guy to replace."

Atlanta coaches may also rework some elements of the offense, with different substation packages.

Atlanta's two projected starters, former first-round draft choices Michael Jenkins (2004) and Roddy White (2005), have just three seasons of combined experience.

Like any team seeking veteran help at this juncture of the summer, the Falcons aren't apt to find much relief in the free agent market. Among the players still available in free agency are Az-Zahir Hakim, Kevin Johnson, Ricky Proehl and Johnnie Morton.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here Insider.

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