FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Ovie Mughelli earned a reputation as one of the NFL’s top blocking fullbacks when he cleared running room for Jamal Lewis in Baltimore the last four seasons.
Mughelli says blocking for Jerious Norwood in Atlanta can only improve that reputation.
As the Falcons prepare for their first preseason game at the New York Jets on Friday night, Mughelli says he is still adjusting to Norwood’s speed.
‘‘Jamal is pretty fast, but Jerious has a different type of speed,’’ Mughelli said after Tuesday’s practice. ‘‘All he needs is a little hole and he’s gone. It’s fun blocking for him because you know at any point he’s going to make you look good.’’
Norwood will start against the Jets as returning 1,000-yard rusher Warrick Dunn recovers from back surgery. Dunn is expected to be full speed for the regular season, but even a healthy Dunn may find Norwood earning a higher percentage of carries than last year.
Norwood, a 2006 third-round pick from Mississippi State, averaged 6.4 yards per carry as a rookie with touchdown runs of 78 and 64 yards. Norwood’s speed should be a good fit for first-year coach Bobby Petrino’s offense, and his skills as a receiver out of the backfield should make him even more valuable.
‘‘In this offense we do a lot of running but we also do a lot of throwing the balls to the backs out of the backfield,’’ Norwood said. ‘‘I think it’s going to be a big part of what we do this year. I’m looking forward to it.’’
Norwood already has impressed new quarterback Joey Harrington, who called the second-year back ‘‘one of the fastest guys that I have seen in this league.’’
Norwood (5-11, 204) impressed coaches last summer with his receiving skills, but the potential he showed in training camp was rarely utilized in the regular season.
While playing behind Dunn, Norwood was the first player in league history to have runs for 69 yards or longer for each of his first two touchdowns.
Norwood’s 78-yard touchdown run against Arizona in Week 4 is the second-longest in team history; he added a 64-yard scoring run against Washington on Dec. 3.
Norwood rushed for 633 yards and ranked second in the league with 424 yards rushing in the fourth quarter, trailing only Kansas City’s Larry Johnson’s 430 yards. While Johnson averaged 3.9 yards on 110 carries in the fourth quarter, Norwood averaged 8.7 yards on 49 carries.
The high average per carry sets the stage for a possible increased workload this season.
Mughelli says Norwood is showing the necessary maturity to handle more responsibility.