Sunday morning at Falcons camp, and the hillside east of the practice fields was the sanctuary. There, hundreds of fans enjoyed the percussive hymns of large men thumping pads.
A beautiful day and a striking setting for the hope of a new season, which judging by the crowd, remains high.
“It’s fun. It’s football,” said running back Devonta Freeman, getting into the moment. “We’re excited to have our fans and our family come out here, everybody coming out showing support and love.”
Occasionally there comes a day like this, when the weather’s fair and the scrimmaging is lively, that a football training camp doesn’t drip with drudgery. But, then Freeman, with all his parts working now, seldom makes camp look like anything but a carnival: “I’m always having fun. I’m always up and excited, especially when it comes to football. Never going to take it for granted.”
There is one best personification of all hope implicit in this camp. It is not found in whatever Dan Quinn’s Bro-mide of the day might be. It is not in Julio Jones idling on the sideline, a race car doing hard time on pit row right now, but its speed and power well known. Nor is it even in a joyful scrimmage interception Sunday by Ricardo Allen, one of last season’s many damaged defenders back on the right side of the injury report.
To see Freeman running and cutting and catching is to believe in the full potential of the Falcons offense. It may be true, as he says that, “I can’t do it without my offensive line, my quarterback, my receivers, the defense. We’re counting on everybody.” But the Falcons are really, really counting on the back who has missed 16 games the last two seasons, including most of 2018.
Quinn has called Freeman the “Multiplier,” for the way he seems to add value to everyone around him. He can be such a two-way pain to the defense (in the 2015 and ’16 seasons, he averaged 1,068 yards rushing while also averaging 64 receptions). The more it’s occupied by him, the less it can concentrate on others.
As nicknames go, there are many worse. If it sticks, the coach would be OK with it.
“I think it should,” Quinn said. He probably wouldn’t even seek a percentage of the marketing rights.
“I don’t know. Maybe. I like it,” Freeman said.
“As long as I can add, help whoever I can help, that’s cool,” he said. Adding, multiplying, no matter. Any math that includes a healthy Freeman in the equation works for the Falcons.
“Pass game, screens, run game — all the things he adds to (the offense) is a factor,” Quinn said. “He’s just difficult to guard, difficult to tackle. Some of that doesn’t show up now because we’re not running through (tackles), but his explosiveness, his strength, his game is there.”
The Falcons were 12th in the NFC in rushing last season, at less than 100 yards per game. That’s got to get better. By multiples of the “Multiplier.”
Thus, it is part of every Falcons game now to hold your breath whenever Freeman touches the ball. He is so compact and he runs so hard, that physics doesn’t always favor him. There is a concussion history that dogs him. It was a bad knee bruise and sports hernia surgery that shorted out his 2018.
There’s something online called the Sports Injury Predictor — how, by the way, does anyone have an uplifting day of work there?
Anyway, it lists 40 other running backs in the NFL with a higher probability of getting injured (defined as missing at least two quarters) than Freeman in 2019. All that means is that they all are in a frightful profession.
All we know for certain is that the Falcons all-purpose, all-important back got through Sunday healthy and happy. One more day down, another 154 to go, not counting the postseason.
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