Falcons running back Devonta Freeman appeared to work at full speed during individual drills with the team on Monday.
Freeman, who’s been in the league’s concussion protocol since Aug. 13, hope he’s released soon and can return to full contact. However, he will not play in the exhibition season finale against Jacksonville at 7 p.m. Thursday night at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“It felt great good being back out there, to get back on the field is a blessing,” Freeman said. “(There) is nothing like this game. I love it so much. I’m just so thankful to be out there and competing with my brothers.”
The Falcons initially thought Freeman had heat related issues, but about an hour and 20 minutes into the practice on Monday, Aug. 14, he went back inside and had concussion like symptoms.
Freeman missed a game in the 2015 season after suffering a concussion against the Indianapolis Colts on Nov. 22.
“It’s a day-to-day process,” Freeman said. “I have a great group of guys working with me…our training staff and our doctors. It’s just a one-day thing, I’m taking it one day at a time.”
Freeman was on the sidelines for the last game, a 24-14 loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Saturday.
“Just mentally, it helped me out a lot,” Freeman said about being a spectator. “It made me realized how blessed I am to be able to come out here and compete, play the game that I love.
“My job is what I love to do and not too many people can say that in this world. So, it was definitely a reality check. I just took it all in because I realize how bless that I am.”
Without Freeman, a two-time Pro Bowler, the first-team offense sputtered against the Cardinals. Also, running back Tevin Coleman, his backup, got tackled on a potential big run.
Quarterback Matt Ryan was 4 of 11 passing for 36 yards, but Freeman isn’t worried about the offense.
“I’m hard on myself first,” Freeman said. “I think I can get better even though I wasn’t out there. I think we can get better as a whole, as a team. I feel like the sky is the limit for this whole unit.”
Freeman scored on a 15-yard pass play against Miami in the exhibition season opener. He hasn’t played since, but doesn’t think he’ll be rusty heading into the season opener against the Chicago Bears on Sept. 10.
“I’m going into my fourth year in the NFL,” Freeman said. “You know your body. You know what it takes. I need to get back out there and start running, maybe get some contact, just a little bit.
“I’m a professional. I know how to handle that. I know what I’ve got to do to get back in tip, top shape. But it’s different from practice and game speed. Even in practice I’m not getting tackled, where in the game I’m getting tackled.”
The Falcons clearly didn’t want to work Freeman too hard in his first day back.
“I did some running today, you know I’m a running back and we run a lot,” Freeman quipped. “It definitely felt good to get back out there. I felt looser. As a team, the older guys were calling me fresh legs and stuff like that. I’m a lot fresher.”
Freeman is hoping to get cleared soon and get that much-needed contact.
“I’m not sure,” Freeman said about the contact. “Probably this week, later this week or maybe (Tuesday) we’ll get some stuff done,” Freeman said. “Hopefully (Tuesday).”
While out, Freeman has tried to help the younger running backs.
“I just try to be their second set of eyes,” Freeman said. “Some stuff I may see that they can’t see. Immediately, when they come off the field, I communicate with them and tell them what I see. What I think could help them. It’s up to them to put it in their game to make it work. If they are doing good and it works for them, that’s all that matters.”
Freeman agreed to a five-year, $41.25 million contract extension that made him the highest-paid running back in the league. The deal had a $15 million signing bonus and included $22 million in guaranteed money.
Last season, Freeman had 1,079 rushing yards with 11 touchdowns and 462 receiving yards with two touchdowns. In his three-year career, Freeman has rushed for 2,383 yards and 23 touchdowns.
ATLANTA FALCONS 2017 EXHIBITION SEASON
GAME THREE: CARDINALS 24, FALCONS 14 Report card: Cardinals 24, Falcons 14
GAME TWO: STEELERS 17, FALCONS 13
GAME ONE: DOLPHINS 23, FALCONS 20