FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Devonta Freeman was more than willing to take up the slack when Atlanta Falcons rookie running back Tevin Coleman missed Wednesday’s practice with a strained hamstring.
After his busy practice, Freeman said he wants as many snaps as possible.
“My thing is I want to be a complete back,” Freeman said. “I don’t want to come off the field. That’s my mentality.”
Even before training camp, first-year coach Dan Quinn praised Freeman’s work ethic. Quinn already knows Freeman well enough to recognize he wants to play and he wants the ball.
“That’s not going to surprise me, the type of competitor he is,” Quinn said. “I don’t think he wants to leave the field for practice, walk-throughs, for the game. I’m not sure he wants to come in at the half. He just likes to battle and compete and that’s one of the things I love most about him.”
Quinn said he hopes Coleman, the third-round pick from Indiana, doesn’t miss much time. Coleman has received some looks with the first-team offense in training camp, but Freeman seems to be the clear leader for the starting job.
It’s also no secret the Falcons plan to use Freeman as a runner and receiver.
Freeman had 30 catches as a rookie despite playing behind Steven Jackson and Jacquizz Rodgers, who did not return. Fantasy alert: Freeman could have many more receptions in new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s scheme.
Freeman (5-foot-8, 206) scored on two passes from Matt Ryan late in Wednesday’s practice.
“We know that outside ... he can catch the ball, so we’re going to feature him in all sorts of ways,” Quinn said. “We’re giving him new stuff we can use, whether it’s aligned outside or in motion to the outside or swinging out of the backfield, he can catch out of all three.”
Freeman’s big plays as a receiver provide a promising preview of how he can fit in the offense.
“It’s a good thing,” Freeman said. “We’ve been going through that, just showing how I can be used in the passing game. I want to be highly utilized, too. It means a lot that they’ve got that much trust in me, putting me in there.”
Freeman said if he lines up outside, he wants to look comfortable in his route.
“I want to line up at receiver and still look natural, like I’m a natural receiver,” he said. “I want to run, block and do whatever it takes to win. I’ll play special teams. Whatever it takes to win.”
And whatever it takes to stay on the field.
“It’s my opportunity to play in the NFL, so I’m taking advantage of it, no matter what,” he said.
Coleman’s injury also provided chances for other running backs, including undrafted rookie Terron Ward of Oregon State, and veteran Antone Smith.
When he was drafted, Coleman said he expected to win the starting job. Before his injury, he said he still expects to start, though he realizes he must climb the depth chart.
“I definitely feel like I’m a freshman again,” Coleman said. “I just have to work my way back up.”
Coleman (5-11, 210) ran for 2,036 yards in 2014, becoming the 18th player in FBS history to reach 2,000 yards in a season. He finished seventh in Heisman Trophy voting.