After opening last season as the Falcons’ starting running back, Tevin Coleman’s rookie season quickly went off the rails.
This fall, he’s back on. Coleman, a third-round pick from Indiana who set out to prove his worthiness, has helped the Falcons to a surprising 2-1 start heading into a big NFC South game with Carolina (1-2) on Sunday at the Georgia Dome.
“You may have heard me talk about Coleman in the beginning of the offseason, as a guy coming back on a mission,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said.
Coleman would just as soon forget last year. It started with a hamstring injury in training camp followed by some broken ribs in the second game. When he recovered and resumed playing, he went through a rash of fumbles.
As if it couldn’t get worse, his season ended with a fall in the shower, resulting in a concussion that scratched him from the final two games.
This year, Coleman has been spectacular while sharing the running back spot with Devonta Freeman.
“It feels real good to be in the mix of things with my team,” said Coleman, who was limited in practice on Wednesday with a sore ankle. “I knew that I could play. I just had a couple of things last year that brought me down. I worked real hard in the offseason to come back up and be here.”
Coleman has rushed 32 times for 110 yards and four touchdowns and has also caught 10 passes for 167 yards.
“Tevin has a lot of talent, as you can see,” offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said.
Coleman tried not to become disenchanted during his 2015 struggles.
“It’s good to see a guy come through when his teammates are counting on him, because there’s a lot of respect that’s earned during those (tough) times,” Quinn said. “He’s certainly earned that.”
His teammates recognized what he had endured and after Coleman scored on a 13-yard run through the middle of Oakland’s defense on Sept. 18, they mobbed him in the end zone.
“There was about nine guys going down in the end zone to find him,” Quinn said. “That’s usually a pretty good sign when guys are down there pumped for you when you take it across.”
While Coleman was out of action, Freeman established himself as the team’s primary ball-carrier and he was rewarded with a trip to the Pro Bowl. When the team reassembled in the offseason, some thought the job belonged to Freeman’s and Coleman would simply be his backup.
But the Falcons insisted that they had two quality backs and worked on Coleman’s ball security. That persistence by Quinn and Shanahan has paid off. Freeman is still flourishing and Coleman has provided a major boost.
“With Kyle spreading us both out wide, that’s hard to cover,” Coleman said. “We can both catch. We both can make big plays. That’s real tough.”
While both want to be the main guy, Freeman and Coleman are making their time-share arrangement work.
“The camaraderie he and Freeman have together and the way they support one another, I think, is very impressive,” Quinn said. “These are guys that the team knows are going to be counted on in a bunch of ways, not just to carry it in the run game, but in the pass game as well.”
Coleman is enjoying his second year.
“It feels awesome for our offense to go out there and perform,” Coleman said. “We are just playing for each other.”
At times, Shanahan has used Freeman and Coleman together.
“It’s something that we sprinkled in a bunch last year in a number of games,” Shanahan said. “Sometimes, it doesn’t make sense, but it really has to do with what you’re going against. You’d really like to have those guys on the field every time, but you can’t have Freeman playing fullback all day either.”
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