Atlanta Falcons' Devonta Freeman explains what he worked on this offseason

By Alex Butler  |  Aug. 11, 2017 at 12:59 PM
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Aug. 11 (UPI) -- One day after signing a mega contract extension with the Atlanta Falcons, Devonta Freeman says he's ready to "become elite."

The Falcons' star running back needed just two touches in Thursday's 23-20 loss to the Miami Dolphins to display his versatility. He had one carry for three years, but scored in the first quarter on a 15-yard reception from Matt Ryan.

Freeman, a Miami native, had 94 guests attending the game at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami.

"I've just been working my craft every single day," Freeman said after the game. "Working on the little things...pass protection, eye discipline. Helping my offensive linemen, pressing my blocks. Little things like that to try to take my game to the next level and become an elite player, the elite back that I always wanted to be."

That's an interesting thought coming from a man who has gone to the Pro Bowl in two of his first three seasons in the NFL. Freeman is already as dynamic as it gets as far as a running back is concerned. In 2015, he had 1,634 yards from scrimmage with a league-leading 11 rushing touchdowns. He turned 97 receiving targets into 73 catches for 578 yards and three scores. Last season he ran for a career-high 1,079 yards and scored 11 rushing touchdowns. He also had 54 catches for 462 yards and two scores.

The 25-year-old Florida State product was rewarded Wednesday with a five-year, $41.25 million extension. His annual $8.25 million salary is more than any other running back.

"[I'm] going out there and competing, doing what I love to do," Freeman said. But Freeman maintains humility despite the large paycheck and Sunday success.

"I just think that, every running back in the NFL is great," he said. "It's hard for me to 'say this running back is better than this running back. He's the No. 1 running back'...because all of us are good. We all do things that may look better than the other. People all have their opinions on if he's the best back or he's the best back. I think I'm the best back. I just feel like we all do things differently. That's why we are in the league and we are starters."

The Falcons ranked second in total offense last year. Atlanta had the third-best passing offense and ranked fifth in rushing. Freeman, Ryan and Julio Jones teamed up to create one of the best offenses in NFL history, scoring a league-high 540 points. Freeman thinks the Falcons need to keep it simple in order to continue, or perhaps build on, last year's success.

"We just trying to work everyday and try to get better," he said. "Take it one day at a time, one game at a time. Play football. Football is simple at the end of the day."

One major difference this season will be new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. Sarkisian joined Atlanta in February following the departure of Kyle Shanahan to the San Francisco 49ers. But while sometimes offenses experience a lull after the departure of a play caller, this offense should maintain some continuity, as Sarkisian will be calling plays from Shanahan's playbook.

"I don't think there are differences," Freeman said. "Just putting people in position. It's a process. Kyle was with us for two years. He understood that Free[man] runs this good. Tevin runs this good. Matt likes this better than this. Matt likes this on first down. I do this better on first and second. It's just getting a feel for each other."

Freeman also said that Sarkisian is already "100 percent" used to Shanahan's playbook.

"He's a professional," Freeman said. "It's all about getting repetition."

The Falcons' next test with the new coordinator comes on August 20 against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field.

Atlanta hosts the Chicago Bears in Week 1.

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