Posted: Friday, June 20th 2014 at 12:23pm
Rookie Freeman garnering attention from all the right places
By Jeff Hart Staff
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan looks to throw the ball during NFL football minicamp, Thursday, June 19, 2014, in Flowery Branch, Ga. Entering his seventh season as the Falcons' starting quarterback, Ryan says he's comfortable behind a retooled offensive line after last year's 4-12 debacle. / photo: Associated Press
FLOWERY BRANCH -- For Atlanta Falcons rookie Devonta Freeman, it’s like being a freshman all over again.
The stocky 206-pound, 5-foot-8 running back, a fourth-round pick out of Florida State, has been soaking up his first experience with the Falcons after the three-day mini-camp at the Falcons Complex, which concluded Thursday morning.
Freeman seemed right at home among Falcons stars Matt Ryan, Roddy White and Julio Jones, to name a few. Even more so on the field.
And on a day when most of the attention was centered on the rapidly changing quarterback situation for the Atlanta Falcons, Freeman garnered perhaps the biggest attention of all from the highest sources possible.
“Pound for pound (Devonta) may be one of the strongest guys here. He’s picking up the pass protection pretty well and seemed to work well with Matt and the rest of the offense,” Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith said. “We like what we’ve seen so far.”
Ryan even chimed in on Freeman during his meeting with the media.
“Coming in as a rookie there is a lot to pick up but I thought from a playbook standpoint he did a great job of taking it from the meeting rooms out onto the field. He brings a lot to the offense and I’m looking forward to working with him more,” Ryan said.
Despite the praise, Freeman said he is still getting adjusted.
“It’s like being a freshman because there are a lot of new faces and new things to learn and everything. It’s a lot,” he said. “But I’m trying to do the work they want me to do and then bring that to the field. It’s nice that they gave me some praise but I’m still just trying to learn and get better. It does feel nice, though.”
It’s still a quarterback league, however, and Freeman was only able to divert some of the attention away from what is turning into an interesting quarterback situation for the Falcons.
Smith said every position is up for grabs, “except for maybe a handful of guys” but Ryan figures to remain atop the depth chart under center. The Falcons unexpected trade for T.J. Yates from the Houston Texans on Wednesday may spell trouble for two and maybe all three of the Falcons other quarterbacks -- Dominique Davis, the backup the last two seasons, Sean Renfree, and Jeff Matthews.
“We want competition at every position and we’re always trying to improve our roster,” Smith said. “Yates has experience in the league and won a playoff game for the Texans so its good to have that kind of experience. We have not labeled anyone as any kind of number yet.
“We’re looking at all of those guys. We haven’t made any decisions yet. Our goal is to put the top 53 guys on the roster and that is what we are doing. We want competition at every position and T.J. will bring even more to the quarterback spot.”
“I met T.J. a couple of times and he’s a really nice guy and brings a lot to us and I’m looking forward to working with him,” Ryan said.
What was noticeable during the final half of Thursday’s practice was the absence of Davis and Matthews taking snaps during 7-on-7 drills. Ryan and Renfree took all the snaps and a bevy of receivers rotated in and out, including rookies Bernard Reed, Julian Jones, and Geraldo Boldewijn.
“I thought all the new guys did pretty well,” Ryan said. “They’re getting to know the playbook better and made some nice plays.”
“Mike is working them hard and done a really nice in improving the communication on the line. They are talking to each other a lot out there and making sure they’re on the same page,” Ryan said. “I’m excited about the progress they’ve made and am looking forward to getting back in a month and getting the pads on and working with them.”
Smith said they will take a month off before gearing up for training camp and preparing for the 2014 season.
“We’ve made a lot of progress the last few months but it’s important to take some time off and recharge so to speak,” Smith said. “However, it’s also important for the guys to remember that they have to stay in shape and be responsible. Every year in this league something happens to someone because they weren’t responsible and didn’t take care of themselves.
“We talked to the guys about taking care of the themselves, their families, and then being responsible to their teammates. The best thing was when I told them the weight room would be open every day except the Fourth of July nearly everyone raised their hand when asked if they planned on using it.”
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