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Devonta Freeman happy to share Falcons backfield with 'brother' Tevin Coleman


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    Mike Triplett
  • ESPN Staff Writer



FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- One surefire way to keep two running backs happy in the same backfield? Feed them the way the Atlanta Falcons do.

Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman combined for 2,482 yards from scrimmage and 24 touchdowns this season, the most of any duo in the NFL. And they kept it up in last week's playoff victory over the Seattle Seahawks with a combined 102 rushing yards, 102 receiving yards and one score apiece.

Freeman insisted, however, that long before their partnership became so prolific, he welcomed Coleman with open arms "from day one."

"That's my brother," said Freeman, who acted almost stunned that there would be any other approach, even though he is the two-time Pro Bowler in this relationship who has had to settle for fewer touches since the Falcons drafted Coleman in the third round in 2015.

"Like, that's my brother. I'm with him more than my family, you know what I mean?" said Freeman, 24, who said it didn't take long for him and Coleman, 23, to realize how much they had in common on and off the field.

"It's nothing but brotherhood and love. That's my family. I love him."

Of course, Freeman acknowledged, brothers can get awfully competitive.



"But it's competing for the better. And not to sabotage nobody or, 'Oh, I'm better than you,' " said Freeman, who pointed out that he had to split carries at Florida State, too, before the Falcons drafted him in the fourth round in 2014.

"I know if you're getting better, I'm getting better. If I get better, you're getting better. So that's how we look at it," Freeman said. "When he came in, I knew he was good, he knew I was good. And it was, 'Man, we've got something special here,' and just tried to take advantage."

Have they ever taken advantage.

The dynamic duo is one of the main reasons Atlanta became the NFL's most explosive offense this season and reached Sunday's NFC Championship Game opposite the Green Bay Packers.

What makes Freeman and Coleman different from many other backfield duos is that their skill sets are so similar; they're not one of those "thunder and lightning" pairings. Although Coleman has a little bit more straight-line speed (ESPN analyst Matt Bowen said it looks on tape that he gets to the line faster than any back in the league), what makes them so dangerous is that they can each do a little bit of everything.

They combined for more than 1,500 rushing yards and nearly 1,000 receiving yards in the regular season. Then last week against Seattle, Freeman broke free on a 53-yard pass and Coleman scored on a 14-yard catch.

Bowen said the Falcons' offense really started to turn heads this season when they went into Denver in Week 5 and torched the vaunted Broncos defense, with Freeman and Coleman combining for 286 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns.

"I feel like we're two of the most unique backs in the league because we can do everything. With one of us out, you don't miss anything," Freeman said. "We love when you think you can put a linebacker on us to try to guard us."

Coleman says he appreciates how hard offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan works to create positive matchups for the backs by splitting them wide among other wrinkles, even though it can make for "a lot of plays and a lot of things for us to remember."



And Shanahan says he appreciates both of his backs for being able to pull it off.

"That's not always a situation you can be in as a coach, [because] sometimes you take the best guy off and the next guy comes in and you're limited," said Shanahan, who gets to play mad scientist both because of their abilities and a lack of egos getting in the way.

"It's great," Shanahan said. "They're very close and very competitive. They both want to be in there every single play, they both want each other's routes. But they both support the heck out of each other. And I think they also know deep down that even though they want to be out there every play, they're both better when they're not. You can keep those guys juiced up and fresh, you get their best every single play."

Don't mistake the harmony for complacency, though. Far from it.

It's clear that both backs are still striving for greatness.

"I knew I was gonna have to share the backfield, but for me it's a challenge. And I'm all for a challenge," Freeman said. "So I looked at it like, this is a good thing, this is gonna determine what type of athlete I am, what type of player I am, to still put up numbers and still be on the top and make the Pro Bowl with less carries. Ain't no other running back that's in the top five with as [few] carries like me."


Likewise, Coleman said he was eager to turn heads in organized team activities over the summer after working to become a more well-rounded player.

"We were just competing and battling and looking so good back there, both of us together, so I guess it was just like, 'Oh wow, Tevin's stepped up since last year, he's really improving, he really got better from last year,' " Coleman said. "And that's what I wanted to do, I wanted to get better on my routes, pass protections, knowing the offense and things like that, so I can have a chance to do what I'm doing right now."

But Coleman also insisted that neither back is caught up with any sort of pecking order.

"When Devonta makes a play, he's like, 'Go get you one. Go get you one.' And vice versa. When I make a play, I'm like, 'Devonta, let's get it, let's get it.' So we just feed off each other, and it's amazing," Coleman said. "We always talk, we always help each other in the backfield, we always help each other with plays. We hang out off the field.

"We're pretty close, so that's probably why we're doing damage on the field."




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1 hour ago, TheFatboi said:

The Miami RB's of the 70's. zonka, Morris, and the other guy. 

Jim Kiick. Kiick and Zonka were nicknamed 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid". There's even a pic of them mimicking the photo of the two outlaws, but I can't post pics or attachments for some reason. 

Kiick and Zonka though were a two man backfield like Cain and Andrews was. So they were in the game together a lot. 

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58 minutes ago, NeonDeion said:

Cool. I wasn't alive then. I guess it's just awesome to see now in this media era when all the top players want attention and accolades re: Brown and ODB

Neither was I. Just heard a lot about them from my parents and studying football history and later watching their A Football Life on NFL network. 

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3 hours ago, ltstorm2 said:

After Freeman's 53 yard catch and run when he was running off the field he was pointing at Tevin coming onto the field while doing the "eat" motion with his hand (pisses me off people think he was copying Zeke).  This team's bond is unreal.

Yeah i thought i was the only one woo noticed that.people who think New copies zeke dont watch football.**** i remember spoon being the only guy doing that back in 09 and i doubt he was the first

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