Flowery Branch – Devonta Freeman has broken from the process, and he’s not afraid to admit it. You fumble four times in a three-game span, losing two, and something -- or someone --has got to give, or rather stop doing just that.
So, the Falcons’ running back this week is boring in not only on the game plan for Sunday’s regular-season finale against Panthers, but on the minutiae of his job. For all the talk about the Falcons’ procedures being the same week after week, which to great degree they are, Freeman has made some changes in his operating procedures.
“Just putting more details in on protecting the ball, and little things like keeping my elbow tight to my body, keeping the ball high and tight,” he said Thursday. “Every rep I get, every time I touch the ball, clamping it with both my hands and just emphasizing more on the ball mentally within myself.”
Saints fans had a good time after Freeman fumbled near the goal line last Sunday.
That knocked the ball loose. The Saints recovered, blunting a scoring drive.Freeman’s going about the business of becoming one with the ball again, he said, “Just because you’ve got to fix problems. Obviously, me fumbling the ball, that’s a problem, so I’m going to attack my problems.”
Dan Quinn’s conversations with Freeman wouldn’t quite rank as an intervention, yet the head coach and the coaching staff are all with the running back.
“What we talk about is the term ‘high and tight’ as a ball carrier,” Quinn said. “It’s for everybody, so what high and tight means is that we’re locking the ball down and we’re going to keep the tip of the ball up high and then tight to your body.
“That elbow has to be locked, so that’s why we know the issues with Free are correctable. The cause of some of them have happened near the contact where his elbow may come out and doesn’t stay locked. That’s our job to help train him on that, so we know those are definitely correctable ones.”
Defenders frequently try to strip ball carriers, but that’s not what happened last Sunday in New Orleans.
Freeman’s fateful fumble came early in the third quarter on second-and-goal from the Saints’ 1-yard-line, two plays after an interception by Deion Jones. He took a handoff ran into center Alex Mack, who was engaged with New Orleans defensive tackle Tyeler Davison and then pushed into the backfield when middle linebacker Manti Te’o doubled.
tribal voice@tribalvoice1“It ain’t got nothing to do with, like, the players, the teams. It’s all on me,” Freeman said. “I need to just pay attention more to those little things, holding the ball high and tight in traffic, being aware I am at like on the goal line.
“Don’t jump on the goal line, run through it, stuff like that instead of worrying about making a guy miss or trying get away. I’ve got to be way more conscious of the ball.”
Offensive coordinator doesn’t sound like he’ll shy away from calling Freeman’s number.
“He put the ball on the ground last week, [and] that was hard on him,” said Steve Sarkisian. “We put our arms around him and built him back up, and let him know that we have the utmost confidence in him, and trust in him.”
Freeman’s putting in overtime this week, mindful that the Falcons (9-6) can clinch a wildcard playoff spot with a win over the Panthers (11-4).
“Sunday . . . starts playoff time for us because it’s win or go home, and we’re definitely . . . taking every day as if we can’t take anything for granted . . . ” he said. “I can get better. I can take care of the ball a lot better."