Thomas Brown battles for Falcons' roster spot

Ex-UGA running back completely recovered from injury

FLOWERY BRANCH — Falcons running back Thomas Brown never was mistaken for a contortionist.

His trademark at Tucker High School and the University of Georgia was being the strongest pound-for-pound back in the program, but in the Falcons' final exhibition game last season, Brown's body was pulled, twisted and yanked into a position he had never seen before.

Brown was the victim of a "horse-collar" tackle, and it was a horrific sight. The result was an upper leg/groin injury that landed him on the team's injured reserve, out for the season.

Things started as a simple running play to the sideline. Brown turned the corner and was accelerating for extra yardage.

"A guy came out of nowhere and grabbed me by the back of my jersey," Brown said. "He was obviously on the way down. His body weight carried him along with his momentum.

"I was in an upright position, and my right leg was planted. He just bent me all the way back to where the back of my head was almost touching the ground and my leg was still straight."

The guy was Baltimore's Gary Stills, who was later fined for using the horse-collar tackling method banned by the NFL.

Brown was a sixth-round draft pick in 2008 and a long shot to make the team, but his play from scrimmage and on kickoff returns had him in the hunt for a roster spot.

To go from nearly making the team to being on injured reserve in a matter of seconds was difficult for Brown, whose injury did not require surgery. Nine months later, however, he is recovering fully and performing well during the team's organized training activities.

"It was extremely frustrating, but I'm a person of faith," Brown said. "I just believe that every thing happens for a reason. I just took it for that. I just tried to take all of the positives I could from that and put it all behind me."

Falcons coach Mike Smith said Brown "was positioning himself to have a chance" to make the Falcons' roster when the injury occurred. Despite the setback, Brown impressed the coaching staff by hanging around, attending running-back meetings and film sessions.

"He's a very hard working guy, and I think he'll be in the mix when we start to talk about our 53-man roster [for 2009]," Smith said.

The Falcons carried only four running backs on the roster last season. Most teams usually have five, and the Falcons currently have six on their expanded offseason roster.

From a glance at the roster, it appears that Brown is the third tailback behind Michael Turner and Jerious Norwood. While Verron Haynes is the third fullback behind Ovie Mughelli and Jason Snelling. A depth chart won't be posted until training camp or later.

"Training camp is a ways away, but Thomas has had a good mini-camp," Falcons running backs coach Gerald Brown said. "He's doing good things for us in the OTAs. He always comes to work."

Etc.

Rookie cornerback William Middleton, a fifth-round draft pick from Furman who played at Marist, suffered a hamstring injury in practice Wednesday. ... Defensive end John Abraham, kicker Jason Elam, offensive tackle Quinn Ojinnaka and defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux did not participate in Wednesday's OTA session, but tight end Tony Gonzalez and rookie cornerback Chris Owens did. Owens missed practice last week while waiting, per league rules, for his college class to graduate. "Tony had a good day," Smith said. "He made some tough catches. Like all of our guys, he's worked very hard in setting the foundation as we move forward to training camp."