mostlycloudy
Wednesday February 10th, 2016 7:57AM

Opportunity with Falcons excites rookie RB Freeman

By The Associated Press
FLOWERY BRANCH -- Fourth-round selection Devonta Freeman said he felt like the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft when he saw the opportunity awaiting him with the Atlanta Falcons.

The former Florida State running back said his path to immediate playing time and a chance to be Atlanta's future starter make him believe he landed with the right team.

"When I got drafted, I just felt so relieved," Freeman said Saturday.

"Coming into the draft, I wanted to go second, third round," he added, "but God had better plans for me. I feel like this plan is going to work out the best, better than guys that got picked ahead of me."

Falcons starter Steven Jackson will be 31 when the 2014 season begins. Longtime backup Jason Snelling has retired. Jacquizz Rodgers is still young but has never reached 100 carries in any of his three seasons.

Coach Mike Smith says the 5-foot-8, 208-pound Freeman may look like a change-of-pace back, but has the strength to run inside.

Freeman said his size is an advantage as he avoided tacklers to become Florida State's first 1,000-yard rusher since Warrick Dunn, another former Falcons back, in 1996.

"I can make guys miss in small areas, small creases," Freeman said. "For my size, I feel like I'm physical. I can have a good impact. I run downhill more than I do outside. I feel I can stick it in there in short yardage, in third-and-inches and stuff like that to get the good yard."

Smith said Freeman showed he has the skills to be a lead back in the three-day rookie minicamp that ended Sunday.

"We've got to find out what Devonta can do," Smith said. "To me, if he can step up and be a good pass protector, he's got the chance to be a three-down back."

That "if" from the coach is a big point for Freeman. He knows he must earn the trust of quarterback Matt Ryan.

"If you can block and protect that million-dollar quarterback, that's the main thing," he said. "That's first. Catching and running, I feel like that's the easy part of it. But blocking, that's something that you've got to have heart and stuff for. I take a lot of pride in that, so that's one of the things I'm going to work on the most."

The Falcons' options at running back also include Antone Smith and former Syracuse star Jerome Smith, who signed as an undrafted rookie.

Freeman ran for 1,016 yards in 2013 despite sharing carries with Karlos Williams and James Wilder Jr. He didn't like Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher's three-RB system until he realized the plan, which kept his legs fresh, also made him more attractive to NFL teams.

"At first I was kind of like, `Man, I wish I could get the ball every play,'" Freeman said. "Now it all makes sense. Coach had a plan for me. I'm a running back. The less attempts, the better for me."

NOTES: The team announced the signings of five draft picks: LB Prince Shembo, CB Ricardo Allen, LB Marquis Spruill, LB Yawin Smallwood and LB Tyler Starr. Shembo was a fourth-round pick, Allen and Spruill were fifth-round selections, and Smallwood and Starr were taken in the seventh round. ... Mike Smith said he doesn't expect WR Julio Jones (foot surgery) and LB Sean Weatherspoon (knee) to participate in offseason activities or next month's full-team minicamp. The goal is to have both ready for training camp. S Zeke Motta (neck surgery) also isn't ready for on-field team drills.
© Copyright 2016 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
2014 Top 10: Looking back at the top sports stories of the year
It was another year for the record books in 2014, mostly for the right reasons -- state championships, new challenges and new stars taking their turn to shine. But there were also plenty of big stories that reminded us that sports -- like life -- isn
11:55PM ( 1 year ago )
NASCAR K&N Pro Series schedules set for 2015
DAYTONA BEACH, FL - NASCAR announced recently the 2015 schedules for its top developmental regional touring series, the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and NASCAR K&N Pro Series West.
2:00PM ( 1 year ago )
Lanierland boys final: Johnson makes history with win over Red Elephants <b> (VIDEO) </b>
Ever the aggressor on the court, Johnson
8:55AM ( 1 year ago )
Sports
Pits will be tight as Chili Bowl entry count hits 316
TULSA, OK - The 29th annual Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Midget Nationals presented by General Tire is on track to be a record smashing event, with the entry count climbing over the 300 mark for the first time to 316 entries confirming 303 drivers for the indoor spectacular happening Tuesday, January 13 through Saturday, January 17 at the Tulsa Expo Center in Tulsa, OK.
9:59AM ( 1 year ago )
Falcons fire Mike Smith after 2nd straight losing season
Mike Smith's status as the winningest coach in Falcons history wasn't enough to save his job. Owner Arthur Blank said he fired Smith on Monday because in his "heart of hearts" he didn't believe Smith could take the Falcons to the Super Bowl.
7:58PM ( 1 year ago )
New promoters in place for 2015 at Senoia Raceway
SENOIA, GA - Lease papers have been signed and a team of new promoters is in place for the upcoming stock car racing season at Senoia Raceway in Senoia, GA.
6:00AM ( 1 year ago )
Professional Sports
(VIDEO) 8-AAAAA tournament: GHS boys advance, Falcons drop heartbreaker in quarterfinals
The ingredients were there Tuesday for Flowery Branch to cook up the first upset of the Region 8-AAAAA boys tournament....
9:07AM ( 1 hour from now )
8-A tournament: Lakeview surges past Athens Academy into semifinals
The Lakeview Academy boys basketball team cruised into the Region 8-A semifinals on Tuesday courtesy a 64-48 defeat of Athens Academy in Athens.
By AccessWDUN Staff
11:57PM ( 8 hours ago )
8-A tournament: Lady Lions move into region semifinals
The Lakeview Academy girls basketball team picked up a victory in the first round of the Region 8-A tournament on Tuesday in Athens.
By AccessWDUN Staff
11:36PM ( 8 hours ago )
(UPDATE) Basketball: 7-AAA, 8-AAAA games postponed due to weather; rescheduled for Wednesday
Both the Region 7-AAA and Region 8-AAAA basketball tournament games scheduled for Tuesday night have been postponed due to impending inclement weather and rescheduled for Wednesday. However, all Region 8-AAAAA contests slated for Gainesville High on Tuesday are still on as scheduled, as are Region 8-A games for Lakeview Academy boys and girls at Athens Academy.
By AccessWDUN Staff
11:20PM ( 8 hours ago )
Lawsuit alleges Tennessee has 'hostile sexual environment'
A lawsuit filed by a group of women alleges that the University of Tennessee has violated Title IX regulations and created a "hostile sexual environment" through a policy of indifference toward assaults by student-athletes.
By The Associated Press
10:49PM ( 9 hours ago )