Although Tevin Coleman was confident he could be a starting running back from Day 1, the 2015 third-round pick experienced more adversity than success during his first NFL campaign. He battled myriad injuries — from a pulled hamstring to a cracked rib to a concussion — and while he showed flashes of brilliance, three fumbles overshadowed the long runs he orchestrated across Georgia Dome turf.
Despite his start, the Falcons believe Coleman is on the right track as 2016 XFINITY® Atlanta Falcons Training Camp approaches. And they believe he will develop into a reliable, productive option, one who can surprise a lot of people next fall.
"There's no doubt in my mind that he will," offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said. "He had as good of an (offseason) as anyone on our team."
Running backs coach Bobby Turner agrees.
"If Tevin can omit the turnovers and stay healthy, he can produce," Turner said. "He's productive. He has the talent. He has the ability. Those are the two main objectives: Eliminate the turnovers, and keep him healthy."
Atlanta Falcons Minicamp, built by The Home Depot, came to a close on Thursday after three days of workouts in the Georgia heat. Fans came to Flowery Branch for one more look at the team.
Devonta Freeman proved he's a star in 2015, when he earned 1,634 all-purpose yards and 14 touchdowns en route to a Pro Bowl appearance that included being named a captaion. He'll be expected to shine again in 2016, but after a year in which he tallied more carries than all but three NFL players, the 5-foot-9, 206-pounder could benefit from a lighter workload. The Falcons believe Coleman can give his teammate that luxury.
There are unmistakable differences between these two — Coleman is taller and has more straight-line speed; Freeman is more shifty — but each is a natural fit in Shanahan's scheme. And because of that, Atlanta thinks it has the pieces needed to feature one of the league's best running back duos.
"I would never use the word problem when you have two really good backs. It's awesome; I don't worry about it," Shanahan said. "They're both so good and so similar to me, it doesn't matter to me who's in there. I don't see much of a difference.
"So that's something I don't ever really worry about. Sometimes I don't know who's in there. I don't mind. I just want them fresh. … I think we can get a lot better next year if Tevin takes some pressure off Freeman, and vice versa."
Given everything Coleman went through in 2015, coaches want to make sure he doesn't get rattled. As Shanahan said, there's a fine line when it comes to working with a young player who's dealing with unforeseen challenges: Avoid talking about the problem, and the athlete won't receive the guidance he needs to recover; harp on it too much, and he could get discouraged.
A balance must be struck to ensure Coleman has the right mentality, and that's what Turner has been trying to accomplish.
"To be a great coach, you must be patient. So that's the bottom line: to not give up on the player too soon, to know the speed of the game is different here (than college)," Turner said.
"Things are starting to slow down for Tevin. Same with Freeman. So we're expecting great things from both of those players. Both guys can help us get to where we ultimately want to go."