Falcons want to reduce Devonta Freeman's workload


Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman compiled a combined 1,634 yards rushing and receiving in 2015, more than 27 percent of the team's total yards for the year. He also added 14 of the Falcons' 38 touchdowns.

Despite being the team's second-best offensive weapon (behind Julio Jones), Atlanta would like to give Freeman a bigger breather in 2016 and get Tevin Coleman more involved in the offense.

"It's about growth," running backs coach Bobby Turner told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "Free had a good year, but I'm expecting even a better year. Well, you're saying, how can it be better? It can be even better with less carries or less catches because I'd obviously like to get Tevin more involved and that also keeps Free fresher."

Freeman earned 337 touches last season, but seemed to hit a wall down the stretch. He compiled more than 75 yards rushing once in his final seven games and averaged 3.04 yards per carry over the team's last five contests.

Coleman, meanwhile, dealt with injury last season, playing in 12 games. As a rookie he earned just 87 attempts, averaging 4.5 yards per tote for 392 yards and one touchdown. He didn't display the pass-catching acumen Freeman owns, catching just two balls for 14 yards.

Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan is known to ride one running back. Shanahan's best offenses have relied on a workhorse, e.g. Alfred Morris, Freeman. He's the man who milked 1,282 yards on 268 carries out of Steve Slaton one year.

While his offense functions best with one lead back getting 65-plus percent of the carries, in 2014 with the Cleveland Browns, Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell each earned more than 145 carries and 600-plus yards.

As for the Freeman-Coleman backfield, the Falcons will let the backs decide who deserves snaps.

"We want them competing," Turner said. "They are very similar. They both are competitive. They both can catch the football. They both have run instincts. When it comes down to it, the one difference is the flat out long speed of Tevin Coleman."

Expect Freeman to see plenty of touches in 2016, but keeping him fresh down the stretch will become a bigger priority. Atlanta didn't select Coleman in the second round to see him waste away on the bench his entire rookie contract.