Falcons' Devonta Freeman sees 'stronger' self in 2019

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Devonta Freeman could be used as a prime example of why teams shouldn't pay running backs big bucks.

Since the Atlanta Falcons handed Freeman a five-year, $41.25 million contract extension in 2017, the running back has battled injury and hasn't been his powerful bulldozing self for most of the past two seasons.

In 2017, Freeman missed two games, and was noticeably less effective while playing through a painful knee injury and dealt with a concussion issue. 2018 proved even worse. Freeman injured his groin in Week 1, attempted to return in Week 5, but was ultimately placed on injured reserve after participating in just two games with 14 total carries.

Seeing his season wiped away shook the running back, he said Monday at the open of Falcons training camp.

"It was depressing," Freeman said, via the team's official website. "It was a down time for me. Because I couldn't do what I loved to do. I was battling sometimes and some moments where I didn't want to be bothered."

The back-to-back 1,000-yard rusher in 2015-2016 believes his injury-ravaged campaigns have taught him to appreciate the good times.

"I got stronger from that," Freeman said. "I got closer to God. I learned how to be patient more. I [learned] better people skills. All around the stuff that I couldn't do, I took advantage of the stuff I could do. I have a greater appreciation for life."

At the start of Falcons training camp, coach Dan Quinn sees a rejuvenated running back ready to once again plow over anyone who gets in his way.

"I think during his injury, what can happen sometimes, is the joy can get taken," Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. "The injury is not only physical, it's mental. So where does the hunger to go, to push, to come back? It's a lot like some fire to fuel you, but it's not an easy process. The work that he put in, the closer he got back to playing again, the joy of that came back a little bit again. On to the field, the energy that he brings is pretty contagious. Having him back out was a big deal."

With Tevin Coleman gone to San Francisco, Freeman enters preseason as the clear-cut top back, with Ito Smith as the top sub likely to siphon carries, and Brian Hill and Qadree Ollison looking to carve out roles in training camp.

Last season sans Freeman, the Falcons ground-game suffered, and the Atlanta offense never found consistency. The hope is a healthy, invigorated Freeman flips the script in 2019.

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