This is the second of a 10-part, position-by-position series analyzing the Falcons’ roster after their offseason program. Coming Wednesday: Wide receivers. When the Falcons report for training camp on July 26, running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman will have to get used to a new fullback. Also, there’s the matter of Freeman’s projected contract extension.
Running back Devonta Freeman is set to make $1.838 million in 2017, but would like a contract extension.
The team is not expecting any issues despite rumblings from Freeman’s representation that surfaced at the Super Bowl.
While the Falcons hope to continue the blend of Freeman and Coleman, the did draft running back Brian Hill in the fifth round. He’ll have to beat out Terron Ward while they attempt to replace fullback Patrick DiMarco with Derrick Coleman, a former Seattle standout.
Coleman (6-foot, 233 pounds) and rookie free agent Tyler Renew (5-11, 217) are competing at fullback, and the Falcons might consider using a tight end to do some of the many things they asked of DiMarco.
They’re definitely not abandoning DiMarco’s position — few NFL teams still use fullbacks — just because he left.
“We do a lot with our fullback, with Pat a year ago,” offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian said. “We’ll continue to do that with Derrick. We motion him. We move him all over the field. We align him, and we ask him to do a lot of different things in the run game.”
In two seasons as assistant offensive line coach, Keith Carter became familiar with the way former coordinator Kyle Shanahan and legendary running backs coach Bobby Turner ran things, and now that Carter is the running backs coach, he wants to maintain the productivity of the backfield.
“(Two-back) personnel, and the fullback are extremely important … ” Carter said. “We ask the tight ends to do everything a fullback does, but we think there’s a lot of value in having both (two-back) and (one-back, two tight ends).
“We’re really excited about Derrick Coleman, getting him from Seattle, and obviously we signed Renew as a free agent. We expect to be in (two-back) personnel this year like we were last year.”
He’s not sure yet how it will happen at fullback, or if Hill (6-1, 219), a fifth-round draft choice out of Wyoming, will fit into a rotation with Freeman and Coleman.
Hill rushed for 1,860 yards and scored 22 touchdowns last season, as a junior, and he caught 41 passes in three college seasons.
“I don’t think the two (fullbacks) we have limit us in any way in the run game,” said Carter, who before his coaching career played tight end, fullback and H-back at UCLA. “You have to be able to get out in front of Tevin and Devonta. … They’re so fast. I think we have that in two fullbacks.
“Derrick Coleman is extremely intelligent, and we expect him to be able to take some of Pat’s role. Like, we used Pat in third-down protection a lot. We’re still learning about Renew.
Freeman and Coleman, who combined for 1,599 rushing yards, and 85 receptions, 883 receiving yards and 24 combined touchdowns, are back.
Hill is the wildcard and perhaps insurance if Freeman’s negotiations go off the rails.
“When we evaluated Brian, we knew he was tough and smart, and he is unselfish,” Carter said. “We’re trying to push him in all these directions to see what he can go and where he can’t go.
“Obviously, he’s a bigger back, so we do have an expectation for him to come in and be able to be physical.”
If Hill turns out to be the player that the Falcons scouted in college, he’ll be quite the change-of-pace and perhaps a solution for the team’s short-yardage woes.
“At the end of the day, he’s a very good mix-up,” Carter said. “Free is extremely elusive; he’ll break your ankles. T-Cole is not only powerful, but will out-run you. Now, you’ve got (Hill), and he’ll thump you, turn it into more of a smash-mouth game.”
Ward was a solid backup in 2016. He had 31 carries for 151 yards (4.9 yards per carry).
Here’s a look at the projected depth chart heading into training camp:
WR 11 Julio Jones, 14 Justin Hardy, 19 Andre Roberts, 1 Reggie Davis, 17 Marvin Hall
LT 70 Jake Matthews, 66 Kevin Graf, 79 Will Freeman
LG 67 Andy Levitre, 64 Sean Harlow, 72 Cornelius Edison, 69 Marquis Lucas
C 51 Alex Mack, 63 Ben Garland, 61 Travis Averill, 62 Cam Keizur
RG [71 Wes Schweitzer, 63 Ben Garland], 68 Trevor Robinson
RT 73 Ryan Schraeder, 76 Daniel Brunskill, 75 Andreas Knappe
TE 81 Austin Hooper, 80 Levine Toilolo, 82 Joshua Perkins, 86 D.J. Tialavea, 85 Eric Saubert, 49 Darion Griswold
WR 12 Mohamed Sanu, 18 Taylor Gabriel, 13 Devin Fuller, 15 Nick Williams, 16 Anthony Dable, 87 Deante Burton, 7 Josh Magee
RB 24 Devonta Freeman, 26 Tevin Coleman, 28 Terron Ward, 38 Brian Hill, 35 B.J. Daniels
FB 40 Derrick Coleman, 39 Tyler Renew
DE 99 Adrian Clayborn, 98 Takkarist McKinley, 96 Martin Ifedi
DT 92 Dontari Poe, 77 Ra’Shede Hageman, 92 Joe Vellano
DT 97 Grady Jarrett, 91 Courtney Upshaw, 74 Taniela Tupou
DE 44 Vic Beasley Jr., 95 Jack Crawford, 90 Derrick Shelby, 93 Chris Odom
SLB 59 DeVondre Campbell, 44 Vic Beasley Jr., 50 Brooks Reed, Jack Lynn
LB 45 Deion Jones, 53 LaRoy Reynolds, 52 Josh Keyes
WLB 36 Kemal Ishmael, 42 Duke Riley, 56 Jermaine Grace, 55 J’Terius Jones
CB 23 Robert Alford, 29 C.J. Goodwin, 25 Akeem King, 39 Janor Jones, 38 Taylor Reynolds
NB 34 Brian Poole, 33 Blidi-Wreh-Wilson, 27 Damontae Kazee
CB 21 Desmond Trufant, 32 Jalen Collins, 30 Deji Olatoye, 41 Quincy Mauger
S 37 Ricardo Allen, 20 Sharrod Neasman, 35 Marcelis Branch
S 22 Keanu Neal, 36 Kemal Ishmael, 48 Jordan Moore, 49 Deron Washington
K 3 Matt Bryant, 6 Mike Meyer
KO 5 Matt Bosher
P 5 Matt Bosher
KR 19 Andre Roberts, 14 Justin Hardy, 13 Devin Fuller, 38 Brian Hill
PR 19 Andre Roberts, 14 Justin Hardy, 13 Devin Fuller, 18 Taylor Gabriel
LS 47 Josh Harris
H 5 Matt Bosher
Matt Winkeljohn contributed to this story.
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Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC