After dodging offseason knee surgery, Falcons running back Devonta Freeman plans to bounce back from the toughest season of his career.
Freeman’s 2017 season got to a slow start when he suffered a concussion in the exhibition season. He suffered another one against Dallas and ended the season with a knee injury against Carolina, that hobbled him some in the playoffs.
Banged-up and bruised, he continued to run with authority, but was not able to pile up Freeman-like statistics. After back-to-back season of compiling more than 1,500 all-purpose yards, he had 1,182 last season.
In 2015, he had 14 touchdowns and 12 in 2016. Last season, he had eight touchdowns.
“I think as far as injuries and stuff, last year was one of the toughest seasons I had,” Freeman said. “Just because I had a few tough injuries that I tried to play through.”
Freeman ran hard after he returned from both concussions, but may have been slowed in the divisional round playoff game against Philadelphia, when he was held to 7 yards rushing on 10 carries.
“I tried to do it because I love this game, I love football, I respect it,” Freeman said.
Heading into this season, Freeman is adjusting to change once again. This year he’ll have his fourth running backs coach in his five years in the league. He’s previously been coached by some of the best including Gerald Brown, Bobby Turner and Keith Carter. Bernie Parmalee, who has spent the last two seasons as the Oakland Raiders running backs coach, replaces Carter.
One unique aspect that Parmalee does bring to the table is that he is a former NFL player having spent nine years playing for the Dolphins (1992-98) and the Jets (1999-2000). Freeman has started building a relationship with Parmalee and appreciates that brings a player’s mentality to his coaching style.
“I feel like every coach has their own way of teaching and doing things,” Freeman said, “What coach (Parmalee) does well is he understands the game from a player’s standpoint. He knows how the body feels after Week 10 and you’re banged up, but still have to go full speed.”
Once Parmalee was hired, he took time to watch every one of Freeman’s plays; taking notes on his strengths and areas that need improvement. While Parmalee sets daily goals to attain, he’s pinpointed a few areas to focus on.
“As runners, the main thing I try to tell the guys is know the blocking scheme,” Parmalee said, “Understanding the combination blocks up front and the leverage of the linebackers. You can run three plays of the same play and get three different looks so you have to train your eyes to know exactly what you’re looking at and take advantage of the opportunities.”
In addition to helping in the pass coverage, Parmalee’s been working to modify Freeman’s running style to prevent injuries from arising again in the future. However, he doesn’t want Freeman to lose his aggressiveness.
Parmaliee doesn’t want Freeman to take on every defender head on. Parmalee prefers a style he calls “getting skinny” that he described as only giving a defender half a man to hit.
“A lot of times as runners we want to be real physical and put their heads down,” Parmalee said, “When you look at plays, there’s plays where you can get skinny where you don’t have to do that; so we’ll watch all types of plays and see how we can protect ourselves both from a head standpoint and make sure we take care of our bodies.”
Though the offseason program, Freeman as well as the other running backs have embraced Parmalee’s philosophy.
“We’re all coachable so I’m pretty sure that makes his job a lot easier,” Freeman said, “We hold each other accountable and he holds us accountable so you can’t help but to respect someone like that.”
As for Freeman, he has set personal goals for himself this upcoming season in hopes to get back to his Pro Bowl form of 2015 and 2016, but he won’t let it overshadow what his team has set out to accomplish this year.
“My individual goals don’t really pertain to my team goals and what we have for us,” Freeman said, “And that is just to make it to that next level and make it to the Super Bowl.”