Atlanta Falcons running back Steven Jackson (quad) could return to the practice field Friday for his first workout of the week with the team. Falcons head coach Mike Smith said Thursday that he's hoping his veteran running back will be able to move around a little at practice, days away from the team's biggest game of the year.
Regardless if Jackson plays on Sunday or not, his backups will still be a factor in Week 17's contest against the Carolina Panthers, including Devonta Freeman.
The team's rookie running back has impressed coaches, including Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter all season. Recently, Freeman showcased his skills with big hits on special teams and his versatility, running and catching the ball. He recorded his first-career rushing touchdown last week against the Saints, along with three receptions for 48 yards, including a 36-yard grab in the team's 30-14 win.
"We've been talking about Devonta every week," Koetter said. "He's a guy that's been improving every week. He was able to make big plays in the running game as well as in the passing game, just exactly what they thought when they drafted him, the type of player they thought he'd become. He did a good job and we look for more of the same."
Freeman has worked hard in practice to improve in every area of his game, recently credited for better pass-protection skills than earlier in the season.
The team's fourth-round draft pick from Florida State University has also turned heads with his ability to hit the holes quickly and then using deceptive speed to outrun opposing defenders. Despite the recent success, the first-year running back is using the praise from coaches as continued motivation to prove they haven't seen anything yet.
"I've got to get better," Freeman said. "I'm always trying to improve in every aspect of my game. I work on my catching. I work on my ball security and finishing when I'm running the ball, hitting the holes. I'm just working on that and trying to get better every day."