<
>

Falcons' Devonta Freeman has his teammates' full attention

Devonta Freeman has rushed for an NFL-best eight touchdowns so far this season. Daniel Shirey/Getty Images

The passion was evident in Devonta Freeman's tone.

The Atlanta Falcons' team Twitter account posted a thrilling video clip recounting the final moments and postgame of last Sunday's overtime win over the Washington Redskins. Near the end of the clip, one can spot Freeman, who rushed for a career-high 153 yards in the game, rallying a group of players and saying: "Guess what? We're back to work tomorrow. Hey, we've got to focus, though. 'Focus' on three. 1-2-3, 'Focus.'"

Freeman already won over his teammates a long time ago, but the intensity of his words provided more confirmation of what the second-year running back truly stands for.

"That's a good opportunity for him to go in and say what he has on his mind and have people listen to him," veteran left guard Andy Levitre said. "I wouldn't say that just because he's a second-year player that nobody's going to listen to him. But for him to be as successful as he has been, people will take a second look at him in terms of the kind of qualities that he can bring, on top of the player that he already is.

"It's always a good thing to have guys in leadership roles; guys that are going to talk to the team, and people are going to listen to. Yes, he's definitely done a good job for us, and we'll listen to anything he's got to say."

Freeman bashfully responded to Levitre's high praise.

"I feel like in the NFL, it doesn't matter about being a veteran or first-year player, everybody respects the grind," Freeman said. "That's one thing about me: I respect everybody's grind. And I respect everybody among football.

"Levitre, he respects me as a man. He sees me grind every day. He knows I'm going to lay it all out on the line for my brothers. And when he talks, I listen. When any vet talks, I listen. It doesn't have an age on it."

Freeman has come of age just 21 games into his NFL career. He enters Thursday night's matchup against the rival New Orleans Saints with a league-leading eight rushing touchdowns. Freeman has surpassed 100 yards rushing in two of five games this season, plus he leads the league with 645 combined yards.

Quarterback Matt Ryan talked about Freeman's energy and emotion being infectious. Veteran receiver Roddy White agreed.

"Devonta's a baller, man," White said. "I love his competitive edge that he brings to the game. He's different.

"You know how you can just tell when people are different and just how they go about and play the game of football? He's a different kind of guy. He goes out there and gives everything he's got. That's why he's so special. In the run game and in the pass game and all the things that he's able to do for us, he's a special player."

Freeman doesn't view himself as anyone out of the ordinary. The kid from one of the toughest Miami projects maintains a humble approach daily. He has learned to appreciate life even more while watching his grandmother battle breast cancer.

That's why Freeman never sulked when he failed to get many touches last year behind Steven Jackson. That's why he never stopped working when rookie Tevin Coleman was named the starter to begin this season.

"I think all Devonta wanted was an opportunity to showcase and to show us that we believe in him and his talents," defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux said. "He's done that game in and game out."

As for Freeman's words last Sunday, the message was simple.

"We just speak up and speak what we feel," Freeman said. "I just said: 'We've got to continue to remain focused. The grind starts back tomorrow.'"

Freeman's on the grind, every single day.