Coleman takes Falcons' lead role after Freeman's concussion

By: CHARLES ODUM, AP Sports Writer

Updated:
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) - Tevin Coleman kept the Falcons' running game moving for one week after Devonta Freeman was lost with a concussion.

With Freeman's recovery time unknown, Coleman may be left in the lead role for another game, and possibly longer.

Freeman, the league's highest-paid running back, seems likely to miss Monday night's game at Seattle following his second concussion in four months and third in three years. That means Coleman is likely to be the man yet again for the reigning NFC champions.

Freeman spent the last two weeks of this preseason in concussion protocol and suffered a concussion against the Colts on Nov. 22, 2015, missing one game. He was hurt on Atlanta's second play of last week's 27-7 win over Dallas and did not practice Thursday.

Freeman and Coleman have formed a productive tandem, combining for more than 900 yards rushing and seven touchdowns this season. Freeman has been the first back in the rotation. Coleman has been the complement.

Now that changes. The spotlight shifts to Coleman, who acknowledged he relishes the opportunity.

"Yeah, but at the same time I'm just doing my job," Coleman said Thursday.

"Really everything is the same. No extras. I go through the same process as each and every other week."

Coleman proved he could be the lead back in the win over Dallas. He set season highs with 20 carries and 83 yards, and he had a 1-yard touchdown run.

"Of course you get a better feel as you get more carries," Coleman said.

Seattle coach Pete Carroll said Coleman "plays with great speed, great big-play ability" and is "a good catcher, route runner and all that kind of stuff."

"He can do everything," Carroll said. "I think the one-two punch they've had with Devonta has been dynamic. If he's going to get most of the load, he's an explosive football player."

Terron Ward had nine carries for 23 yards behind Coleman against the Cowboys and appears set to again play a backup role versus Seattle.

The Falcons added more depth at running back by signing Terrence Magee from the Cleveland Browns' practice squad on Wednesday.

Freeman negotiated a five-year, $41.25 contract extension before the season that makes him the league's highest-paid running back in terms of the overall package.

Freeman's average salary in the new deal is $8.25 million. Coleman, the third-year back from Indiana, is earning $680,000.

The money is far different, but Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said his respect for the two backs is the same.

"We trust both those guys," Ryan said. "I don't think anything changes in the run game for sure. I usually don't even think about who's in there when we're calling run plays."

Coleman appears bound for only his fourth career start and his first since his 2015 rookie season.

Wide receiver Julio Jones said the probable change of starting running backs "doesn't affect the offense at all by any means."

"Tevin is a great back," Jones said. "He's a one. Freeman is a one."

Coach Dan Quinn wouldn't say if Freeman's time in the concussion protocol will be affected by his earlier concussion in the preseason.

Quinn said Freeman is "participating in our meetings, normal things a guy would do in the same situation."

"That's the times when you lean on Tevin more," Quinn said. "We did that in the game. We're fortunate we have Terron as well, who can also play in some roles."

The Falcons needed more depth at running back after the Bengals signed Brian Hill from Atlanta's practice squad.

Quinn said the Falcons have followed Magee since he played at Louisiana State. He had his first practice with the Falcons on Thursday.

Magee had three carries for 12 yards in two games with the Seahawks in 2016. He was signed by Baltimore as an undrafted free agent following the 2015 NFL draft.

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