FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Watch Devonta Freeman at the start of any given practice and you'll see the Atlanta Falcons running back alone in the middle of the field, tightly securing the ball as he works on bouncing outside.
He'll put his foot in the dirt then quickly explode up the field after the sharp cut. Although no defenders typically stand in his way, Freeman still carries out the entire run, keeping his eyes focused as if he's trying to find the hole created by his offensive linemen.
"I feel like to be an elite running back, it starts with your eyes," Freeman said. "You can be big. You can be strong. You can be fast. But if you don't got no vision, you don't got nothing. I always tell myself, 'See a lot, see a little. See a little, see everything.' Vision is the greatest asset for running back that you can have."
The same aspects he practices and focuses on daily are the same elements he preached to a group of campers who attended his free youth football camp this summer in Freeman's hometown of Miami. Although the camp addressed all positions, one could tell Freeman had the most fun instructing the young running backs.
He was a kid taking instruction on that same football field years ago, except the instructions didn't come from a two-time Pro Bowler such as himself. Freeman literally took it and ran with it, and now is considered among the league's elite running backs. His average of $8.25 million per year tops all running backs currently in multi-year contracts, right ahead of Buffalo's LeSean McCoy ($8.01 million), who will face Freeman and the Falcons on Sunday in Atlanta.
Freeman, who was sixth in the league with 13 touchdowns last season, already has four touchdowns through three games this season. Quarterback Matt Ryan was asked to analyze Freeman's top run so far.
"He's made a lot of them," Ryan said. "This season? Gosh. It was in a four-minute drill against Green Bay. We ran inside zone off to the right. And his patience to be able to wait -- I forget what play number it was -- but his patience to be able to wait at the line of scrimmage, let it sort out and knife through. And then he kind of wound back and cut back to the left for a 10-yard run in a four-minute situation, not many people could do that.
"Experience helps that, but you've got to have some natural just feel to be able to do those things. His feel, his vision is really as good as anybody I've been around."