The Atlanta Falcons have plenty of competition brewing on Day 2 of their training camp at Flowery Branch Headquarters Complex.
At running back, the Falcons have second-year FSU product Devonta Freeman, third-round rookie Tevin Coleman and Antone Smith as the top three players out of the backfield.
Freeman combined for 473 yards and two touchdowns (248 rushing yards, 225 receiving yards) in 16 games as a rookie in 2014. He didn’t see the field much with veterans Steven Jackson, Jacquizz Rodgers and Smith taking up most of the snaps.
The selection of Coleman that high in the draft is a big deal and might pave the way for a two-headed backfield with Freeman as the 1A and Coleman as the 1B. Freeman lined up with the first-team for most of Saturday’s practice while Coleman was featured with the first-team for a handful of snaps.
“Totally natural doing that,” First-year Falcons head coach Dan Quinn said via ESPN.com. “For him to get that kind of work with the guys at that position … I’m really pleased with the way that Bobby (running backs coach Bobby Turner) has taken to him and taken to Devonta in developing these guys. And their getting tighter (bond-wise), which is going to be important, too.”
A two-headed backfield with youngsters Freeman and Coleman will be the best way to keep the two fresh. Smith joining in on the action as a home-run hitter will be important, as well. Even though the 29-year-old Smith has only 44 career touches, he had four touchdowns of 40 or more yards in 10 games last season before suffering a broken leg in November.
Top cornerback Desmond Trufant has five interceptions in two seasons with the Falcons as a full-time starter. On Saturday, Trufant picked off a Matt Ryan pass attempt to Julio Jones as he was running down the sideline.
“Well Julio, he just took off running, so I knew it could only be one route,” Trufant said via ESPN.com. “I knew I had deep help. I just took a chance and undercut it. And the ball was there. Just happy I made it.”
A surprise to some at camp so far is the presence of Ricardo Allen in the starting lineup at free safety. The second-year Purdue product is listed as a cornerback, but has lined up with the first-team next to William Moore.
“(Allen’s) worked extremely hard at it,” Quinn said via Falcons.com. “So he’s taken to the principles of playing free safety. And I think more than that — than anything — it’s that communication that he’s working on day in and day out. At that free safety spot, you’re farthest from the ball, but you see the most. So that communication is key.”
If the Falcons can find a steady starter next to Moore then they will be much better off in 2015. Atlanta also has third-year UCF product Kemal Ishmael and former Carolina Panthers starter Charles Godfrey. The competition at safety for Atlanta is an important one under Quinn as the defense looks to improve off a down 2014 campaign.
Atlanta’s defense ranked last in yards allowed per game (398.2), yards per play (6.1), first downs per game (22.4) and third down percentage (47).
The Falcons made a move along the offensive line with the addition of right tackle Pierce Burton and the release of guard Harland Gunn before Saturday’s practice session. The 6’6″, 305-pound Burton signed as an undrafted free agent with Minnesota last year out of Mississippi.
Atlanta has practices on Sunday and Monday before they earn a day off on Tuesday. Then 10 days later, Quinn and the Falcons get their first crack in the preseason as they play host to Tennessee.