The Falcons have been vocal about improving the run game, but we haven't necessarily seen the talk translate into production on the field over the course of the first two preseason games. Against the Titans in week one and the Jets this past Friday, the Falcons have averaged 1.9 yards per carry on 53 rushing plays.
Granted, the Falcons have doing this without presumably the top two backs on the roster, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, who have been sidelined for some time with hamstring injuries.
Both Freeman and Coleman returned to practice in a limited capacity last week, and Freeman told us that even though he's been sidelined, he's taking every mental rep he can.
"I'm getting every rep," Freeman said. "I'm taking every rep — not physically, but mentally, I'm repping it, and I feel like you need that to be a full pro, take mental reps, too, while you can't take physical reps and just learn from it. And I watch a lot of film, so I feel like I'm still practicing, just not physically."
Freeman has a full season of experience in the NFL, so he's had time to develop an approach to the game and an understanding of what it takes to prepare mentally and physically. Coleman, as a rookie, is missing valuable time to develop and acclimate to the NFL.
For Coleman, that's been frustrating.
"It's been really frustrating to just watch my team get out there and compete and fight hard," Coleman said. :I want to be a part of that, so it's just been really frustrating for me."
Head coach Dan Quinn did have the running backs dress for the first preseason game against the Titans, and Freeman and Coleman went through the normal warm up process with their teammates. Quinn wanted these players, particularly Coleman, to have the opportunity to develop a routine and a level of comfort.
Coleman believes that was beneficial.
"It helped me get a feel for how it was going to be and how my warmup is going to be that I do every game," Coleman said, "and just to have a routine to have every game to perform my best."
Part of the reason the running game hasn't flourished as of yet is that the other backs currently on the roster lack the vision and instincts both Freeman and Coleman possess, and these are attributes that can't be taught.
According to running backs coach Bobby Turner, they want players running downhill, making one cut and going. There's no room for hesitation behind the line of scrimmage.
"We don't like the East-West running, sideline to sideline," Turner said. "We're pressing the line of scrimmage, reading our blocks, setting up blocks for the linemen, then we want to get the ball downhill, and the ball can hit anyplace."
The injuries Freeman and Coleman are dealing with have put the coaching staff's evaluation of these two players on hold, but much has been made of the competition running between these guys for the bulk of the carries this season. Coleman made it clear that he expected to win the starting job, and Freeman, the consummate competitor, was vocal about his plan to do the same.
That competition hasn't negatively impacted Coleman and Freeman's relationship off the field.
"[Coleman]'s like a brother. We're all brothers here," Freeman said. "Me, Tevin, Ward, Jerome, DiMarco — everybody — Antone — everybody, we're brothers. When we're out here, it's business. Competing and stuff, you know what I mean? And everybody understands that. Our coach makes sure we understand that. But when we're in a room, we're a whole. We're a fist — that's what the coaches say. We're one."