Devonta Freeman feeling good, smiling again for Falcons
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — Even as he enters his fourth season, Tevin Coleman is still taking notes from Falcons teammate Devonta Freeman on all the basics that go with being an NFL running back.
How to run. How to catch. How to block.
How to make teammates smile.
In training camp, Freeman’s contagious personality may be one of his biggest strengths. His ever-present smile can be a mood-lifter during long, hot practice days.
“It’s definitely effective,” Coleman said after Saturday’s practice. “Just having him here and bringing in the energy and getting other guys motivated to compete and work hard, just his presence here lightens everybody up. I like that.”
Freeman is especially upbeat this camp. He is relishing his return to good health following a sometimes scary 2017 season.
Freeman suffered two concussions last year. He spent the last two weeks of the preseason in concussion protocol before suffering another concussion against Dallas on Nov. 12 that forced him to miss two games. A sprained right knee cut into his production late in the season.
Now Freeman, 26, is feeling good. He’s an important part of an offense that is looking to return to its form of 2016, when it led the league in scoring.
“What more can I ask for?” Freeman asked earlier this week. “My dream job is football and I get to play. I come to work and play football every day. That’s it.”
Coleman said Freeman is “happy to feel good, happy to be here with his brothers, happy to compete.”
Coach Dan Quinn says Freeman’s tough demeanor in practice shows that he loves the game, especially in training camp.
“He’s such a competitor,” Quinn said Saturday. “He has the personality among his teammates. They love him. They love what he stands for on the field, off the field, in the locker room. He is one of constant support. His makeup and mentality, based on toughness and competing, this is his kind of environment.”
Added Quinn: “We truly celebrate guys like Free who live that lifestyle.”
Quinn immediately noticed a change in Freeman early in camp.
“It is awesome to see Free back, feeling like himself,” he said.
Freeman was one of the first players to catch the attention of Quinn, then a first-year coach, in 2015. The coach immediately talked about Freeman’s skills as a runner and receiver, and the running back’s breakout season lived up to the hype.
Freeman ranked fifth in the NFL with 1,634 combined rushing and receiving yards in 2015 and was first with 14 all-purpose touchdowns.
He added another 1,000-yard rushing season in 2016. Even while missing two games last year, he ran for 865 yards with seven touchdowns and had 36 catches for 317 yards.
Most running backs would be happy with 36 catches, but for Freeman it was a big drop from 2015, when he caught 73 passes for 578 yards.
Freeman hopes he and Coleman have more targets from quarterback Matt Ryan in the second year with offensive coordinator Steve Sarkasian.
“I think we’ve got enough talent to be utilized in the passing game,” he said. “We need to take advantage of that.”
NOTES: The Falcons had their fourth annual military day, welcoming soldiers from Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia, and 24 families from the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors who have lost a loved one in the military. “It was a great way for us to pay tribute back to them,” Quinn said. ... A German TV crew, on a tour of at least eight NFL training camps, visited the Falcons and plans to return when Atlanta hosts this season’s Super Bowl. “It would be a perfect scenario if the home team could reach the Super Bowl,” said Christoph Dommisch of 7Sports. Dommisch and other members of the crew wore traditional lederhosen — shorts and suspenders.
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