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Falcons suddenly thin at RB position
Falcons Camp Footbll Heal

By CHARLES ODUM
AP Sports Writer
       
    FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — The Atlanta Falcons are facing a sudden void atop their depth chart at running back after Devonta Freeman strained his hamstring in Thursday's practice.
    Freeman spent the remainder of practice with trainers on the practice field. He wasn't taken inside, an indicator the injury is not believed to be serious.
    Even so, hamstring injuries can be slow to heal. The Falcons have more reason for concern: Rookie Tevin Coleman strained his hamstring on Wednesday and did not practice Thursday.
    Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said he hopes the strains are mild.
    "I don't know yet but I don't think it's anything serious," Shanahan said of Freeman's injury. "It's part of camp.
    "I've really never gone through camp without backs going down. It happens at every position. Hopefully they get healthy fast and get back out there again."
    Freeman opened training camp as the favorite to start. Freeman has impressed first-year coach Dan Quinn, who seems to have a new compliment for the running back every day. Even when talking about the new injury, Quinn had more praise for Freeman.
    "Hopefully it's a quick turnaround and he can get back," Quinn said. "He's such a passionate competitor. You could see how disappointed he was not to be able to finish the day. He is an absolute competitor and just every day he brings it. He stands for a lot of stuff I love about our team, his attitude, intensity and toughness and wanting to compete. All those are traits we look for and he brings them every day."
    The injuries created an unexpected opportunity for veteran Antone Smith and undrafted rookie Terron Ward. Each running back saw time with the starters late in practice.
    Smith, entering his sixth season with Atlanta, first made his mark on special teams. He has had chances to impress on offense the last two seasons. He had only 23 carries for 144 yards last season, but scored five touchdowns, including touchdown receptions of 54, 74 and 41 yards.
    Smith scored on a long run following a short pass from Ryan on Thursday. Still, he has not shown he can be more than a complementary back.
    Ward, from Oregon State, is a long shot to win a roster spot. He could have an opportunity if Freeman and Coleman don't make quick returns from their injuries. Ward ran for 696 yards and 10 touchdowns for Oregon State in 2014.
    Ward lost a fumble on the last play of the practice.
    There is no indication the Falcons will look for help at running back, though that could change if the injuries are more serious than believed.
    "No. I think we've got a bunch of guys who can play," Shanahan said. "Depth is always a concern at every position. That always depends on injuries and stuff that you can't control. I try not to worry about it."
    The Falcons play their preseason opener against Tennessee on Aug. 14.    "It's a good thing," Freeman said. "We've been going through that, just showing how I can be used in the passing game. I want to be highly utilized, too. It means a lot that they've got that much trust in me, putting me in there."
    Freeman said if he lines up outside, he wants to look comfortable in his route.
    "I want to line up at receiver and still look natural, like I'm a natural receiver," he said. "I want to run, block and do whatever it takes to win. I'll play special teams. Whatever it takes to win."
    And whatever it takes to stay on the field.
    "It's my opportunity to play in the NFL, so I'm taking advantage of it, no matter what," he said.
    Coleman's injury also provided chances for other running backs, including undrafted rookie Terron Ward of Oregon State, and veteran Antone Smith.
    When he was drafted, Coleman said he expected to win the starting job. Before his injury, he said he still expects to start, though he realizes he must climb the depth chart.
    "I definitely feel like I'm a freshman again," Coleman said. "I just have to work my way back up."
    Coleman (5-11, 210) ran for 2,036 yards in 2014, becoming the 18th player in FBS history to reach 2,000 yards in a season. He finished seventh in Heisman Trophy voting.

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