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Devonta Freeman takes verbal hits from Warrick Dunn to avoid real ones


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  • mcclure_vaughn.png&w=160&h=160&scale=cro
    Vaughn McClure
  • ESPN Staff Writer

 

 

 

 

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Devonta Freeman has done a solid job emulating Warrick Dunn as a dual-threat back, but imitating how Dunn talks is another story.

Freeman, the Atlanta Falcons' two-time Pro Bowl running back, leaned on a set of bleachers, took a deep breath, lowered his tone and offered his best impersonation of Dunn, who had his most productive seasons with the Falcons from 2002 to '08.

"Warrick always tells me all the time -- you know he talks low -- but he tells me, 'Hey, man, you've got do better. You can't be taking all these hits, man. It's all about longevity,'" Freeman whispered with a Southern drawl. "That's what he always says to me, and I appreciate that. I really appreciate stuff like that."

Dunn probably would have laughed at the way Freeman mimicked his tone, but at least his message seems to have resonated. The bond Freeman shares with Dunn, a fellow Florida State Seminole, extends beyond football talk. They keep in touch often, even if it means checking in just to say hello. In the bulk of those conversations, Freeman has grown accustomed to Dunn preaching to him about avoiding some of those vicious hits.

"Yeah, I agree with him 100 percent," Freeman said. "I've talked to a lot of people about it."

Dunn, now a Falcons minority owner, never regrets bringing it up.

 

"A lot of times, these guys always want to prove that they're tough or that they can get the tough yard, but sometimes you have to live for another down," Dunn said. "My advice to Devonta was, 'You have to learn how to protect yourself at the same time. You're picking up tough yards, but you have to be smart and strategic about it.'

"To be a better runner, it's not always about, 'Let me run over guys.' It's 'How can I avoid the big hit so I can have longevity in this league?' And I just try to encourage him to become a better overall runner."

  Warrick Dunn played only half of his career with the Falcons, but his 5,981 rushing yards in an Atlanta uniform are fewer than 700 yards behind that of Gerald Riggs, the franchise's all-time leader. Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

 

Healthy approach

The 27-year-old Freeman, entering his sixth NFL season, played in two games last season because of foot, knee and groin injuries before he had season-ending core-muscle surgery. In 2017, he missed two regular-season games with an in-game concussion, missed preseason action because of a practice concussion and sprained two ligaments in his right knee during the regular-season finale. He also missed a game with a concussion in 2015.

Considering his size, at 5-foot-8 and 208 pounds, plus the fact that he has sustained at least three concussions, there are durability concerns.

"I've really never even thought about it because it's just one of those things where it's football," Freeman said. "No. 1, you already know you're signing up for a 100 percent gladiator sport. Anybody can get injured -- 100 percent.

"But it's never one of those things that I dwell on, like, 'Man, I've got this many concussions. I got hurt this many times.' As long as God is still blessing me to do what I want to do, I'm going to keep doing it because this is God's timing. This is not my timing. This is what God wants me to be doing, so I'm going to do it."

Freeman understands why folks chide him about taking hits. And Dunn isn't the one who rides him the hardest.

"Of course, my momma, she's No. 1," Freeman said of his mother, Lorraine. "She's like, 'Baby, you just need to get out of bounds sometimes' and 'Why you be trying to hit the big people like that?' and 'Why they trying to hit you like that?' Because my mom didn't grow up a football fan. She understands it a lot more now because I'm her son."

Dunn, unlike Lorraine Freeman, speaks from football experience. Listed at 5-foot-9 and 180 pounds, Dunn played 12 NFL seasons and was a three-time Pro Bowl selection. He started and ended his career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but during his six seasons with the Falcons, Dunn had a stretch of starting all 16 games in three consecutive seasons (2004-06). In that stretch, he averaged 304 touches and 1,448 yards from scrimmage per season.

"If I was running, I wouldn't want to get hit at all," said Dunn, who started 154 of 181 career games. "I'm trying to avoid getting hit. I'm not going to take shots. So there's times that you need to run out of bounds."

Freeman agreed with Dunn's reasoning yet explained that he has evolved into a smarter runner since his rookie season.

"It's not like I'm out there trying to be a tough guy," Freeman said. "I'm not trying to run people over. I have before. I mean, some guys on the sideline, sometimes I just wanted to just run through people. But that was just my younger years. A couple of games, I ran some guys over on the sideline when I could have run out of bounds. It happened a couple of times when I was 1 yard away from the sideline, and I should have went out of bounds.

"Once I get going downhill, I'm going downhill. It's like a truck -- hard to stop. That's for anybody, though. But sometimes, you have to live for another down as well. I'm learning. I'm growing in that. I'm going to continue to get better."

In fairness to Freeman, it's hard not to take a pounding when you don't have adequate blocking in front of you. He didn't miss a game in 2016 when the Falcons started the same five offensive linemen all the way through the Super Bowl. The Falcons hope the 2019 version of the line, which features Pro Bowl picks Alex Mack and Jake Matthews and could include rookie first-rounders Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary, protects Matt Ryan and opens more holes in the running game.

Freeman, who looks rejuvenated after the surgery in October, is sure to carry the bulk of the load with Ito Smith and perhaps rookie back Qadree Ollisonbehind him. Freeman can help his cause by using his shiftiness to avoid tacklers.

"Yes, I can use my elusiveness, but it's hard to at certain times," Freeman said. "If I'm in the hole, it's hard for me to be elusive because I don't have the time to be elusive when you have these linebackers who are running 4.4 now. So I got to get it and go."

 

Role model

Freeman met Dunn during his junior season at Florida State, when Dunn came back to address the running backs in the meeting room. Dunn talked about the benefits of the outside-zone blocking scheme and offered pointers.

Freeman didn't get a chance to speak with Dunn afterward, but the moment left an impression.

"Of course, I knew all about Warrick Dunn because that was, like, the guy when I was at FSU. I was like, 'Man, I want to accomplish everything Warrick accomplished,'" Freeman said. "He's a great person, on and off the field."

Dunn is second on Florida State's all-time rushing list with 3,959 yards, behind current Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook (4,464). Freeman is ninth with 2,255 yards.

 

Dunn vs. Freeman

A tale of the tape between Falcons of different generations, Warrick Dunn and Devonta Freeman, who both went to Florida State:

  DUNN FREEMAN
Pro Bowls           3               2
Height   5-9             5-8
Weight 180 206
FSU rush yards  3,959 2,255
Draft round 1st, '97   4th, '14
Years pro 12 5
NFL rush yards 10,967  3,316
Yards/carry 4.1 4.3
Rushing TDs 49 30
Total TDs 64 37

 

Dunn amassed 10,967 rushing yards, 4,339 receiving yards and 64 total touchdowns in his 181 career NFL games. In 2008, he became just the sixth player in league history to reach 10,000 rushing yards and 500 receptions, joining Marcus Allen, Tiki Barber, Marshall Faulk, Emmitt Smith and LaDainian Tomlinson.

Freeman has 3,316 career rushing yards (767 attempts), 1,605 receiving yards (198 receptions) and 37 total touchdowns in 63 career games. He admitted to being in a "dark place" last year while injured as the Falcons finished 7-9. But there are high expectations for a now healthy Freeman heading into this season.

"I'm not going to set any personal goals as far as [statistics]," Freeman said. "I'm going to play as long as I can play. As long as I can still be explosive and have fun with it and God gives me the ability to do it, I'm going to keep doing it. I'm not going to put no time limit on my career because I don't want to do nothing else but play football.

"Whenever it's time for me to hit something else -- maybe be a coach one day or something like that -- that's when the time comes. But for now, I just want to play football as long as I can."

Freeman also admires Dunn's body of work off the field. Through the Warrick Dunn Charities Homes for the Holidays initiative, Dunn's foundation has awarded 169 homes to single-parent families. Dunn created the program in honor of his late mother, Betty Smothers, who was a single parent and police officer murdered in an ambush at a Louisiana bank in 1993.

"Warrick lost his mom, and look at the way he carries himself," Freeman said. "He's got a lot of heart. He went and visited the man in jail. That's tough, to look at somebody eye to eye and ask them why they killed your mom. That's tough.

 
"Just him as a man, he's such a well-rounded guy. I would advise anyone to take after his footsteps. I mean, be your own person, but try to mimic that or come close to it in your own way."

Freeman, who grew up in the rugged Miami projects, has his own foundation and hosted a free camp a few years back at the Charles Hadley Park where he played as a youth. Freeman has partnered with an elementary charter school in Atlanta for laptop giveaways and shopping sprees, something he hasn't advertised and shied away from discussing in detail.

"You can tell Warrick is all about family and giving back to the community, and that inspires me," Freeman said. "Giving the houses away, that's something that's always motivated me.

"There's a lot of people who are unfortunate. It feels good when you have the caliber of legend of Warrick Dunn going back and giving back and showing he really cares. Football is huge, but at the same time, we've got a lot more to be thankful for."

 

 

https://www.espn.com/blog/atlanta-falcons/post/_/id/34273/devonta-freeman-takes-verbal-hits-from-warrick-dunn-to-avoid-real-ones

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4 minutes ago, MAD597 said:

Maybe Dunn can talk to Freeman about not being a selfish punk *** ***** about contracts during our SB bye week and also not whiffing blocks on your QB?  

For his size Dunn was a good blocker something Freeman need to learn about.

Go away moron

To the article, very refreshing read and makes all the sense in the world.  Hope Free heeds Warrick's advice.  We've been saying the same things for years with Free, he doesn't need to run through people, he has the elusiveness and agility like Dunn to not take those kill shots.

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6 minutes ago, athell said:

Go away moron

To the article, very refreshing read and makes all the sense in the world.  Hope Free heeds Warrick's advice.  We've been saying the same things for years with Free, he doesn't need to run through people, he has the elusiveness and agility like Dunn to not take those kill shots.

Go f yourself  buddy, every reply you do to me is just an insult so you can jump off a bridge for all I care.

I'm blocking you cause you are a ***** bag so seriously go f yourself

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2 minutes ago, MAD597 said:

Go f yourself  buddy, every reply you do to me is just an insult so you can jump of a bridge for all I care. I'm blocking you cause you are a ***** bag so seriously go f yourself

Please refer my previous statement "Go away moron"

Maybe once you stop being a moron with every single post, I will stop insulting you.  Fix yourself and your stupidity.  You are garbage tier here.

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Lets see.  Running back in the NFL.  Get ball, have eleven guys try and destroy you.  So, I guess the message is avoid contact?  I don't understand not taking hits. What does that mean?  Slide before contact?  Run out of bounds?  He can try to juke all he wants until a 280 pound DE whose is as fast as he is takes his head off.  Maybe Freeman should have thought of the consequences of football before signing that contract.  Sounds to me like he wants to be part of a RB tandem and not the number one guy.  I dunno.  I just wish someone would explain to me how an NFL running back avoids hits.  Wrap him in bubble wrap?

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4 minutes ago, schwarzenegger321 said:

Lets see.  Running back in the NFL.  Get ball, have eleven guys try and destroy you.  So, I guess the message is avoid contact?  I don't understand not taking hits. What does that mean?  Slide before contact?  Run out of bounds?  He can try to juke all he wants until a 280 pound DE whose is as fast as he is takes his head off.  Maybe Freeman should have thought of the consequences of football before signing that contract.  Sounds to me like he wants to be part of a RB tandem and not the number one guy.  I dunno.  I just wish someone would explain to me how an NFL running back avoids hits.  Wrap him in bubble wrap?

It's the unnecessary ones. Like Freeman pointed out, if he's already headed out of bounds, trying to run a guy over upfield for one yard is unnecessary unless that's for a first down. He can't avoid every one, it's still football. But not every instance requires a full head of steam at every single guy bigger than him. Pick your spots. 

It's like telling a boxer to avoid haymakers. He's going to get hit because he's boxing, but don't just each the big ones if you don't have to. 

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4 minutes ago, schwarzenegger321 said:

Lets see.  Running back in the NFL.  Get ball, have eleven guys try and destroy you.  So, I guess the message is avoid contact?  I don't understand not taking hits. What does that mean?  Slide before contact?  Run out of bounds?  He can try to juke all he wants until a 280 pound DE whose is as fast as he is takes his head off.  Maybe Freeman should have thought of the consequences of football before signing that contract.  Sounds to me like he wants to be part of a RB tandem and not the number one guy.  I dunno.  I just wish someone would explain to me how an NFL running back avoids hits.  Wrap him in bubble wrap?

If you really don't understand it, go watch some Marvin Harrison tape.  Dude never got hit because he was smart.  There are ways to preserve your body and as a smaller player, Free should pay attention.  Dunn is spot on.

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4 minutes ago, vel said:

It's the unnecessary ones. Like Freeman pointed out, if he's already headed out of bounds, trying to run a guy over upfield for one yard is unnecessary unless that's for a first down. He can't avoid every one, it's still football. But not every instance requires a full head of steam at every single guy bigger than him. Pick your spots. 

It's like telling a boxer to avoid haymakers. He's going to get hit because he's boxing, but don't just each the big ones if you don't have to. 

Good boxing analogy.  Surprised Quinn hasn’t used it.

A RB should square his shoulders and do the hitting.  It’s safer that way.  But if you have 11 yards and can get out of bounds cleanly, do it.  Don’t try to bowl over a linebacker for the extra 2 yards

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8 minutes ago, Falconsin2012 said:

Can we make Dunn our rb’s coach, please.  

I am not certain Free has the IQ to truly understand what Dunn is saying.  His response was disheartening: “it’s a gladiator sport, we know what we signed up for.”

Be smart with your body, Free!!!

Im sure Dunn is sitting right where he wants to be as a minority owner.. I appreciate him giving valuable information, but doubt he has any desire to coach

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11 minutes ago, ⚡Slumerican⚡ said:

Im sure Dunn is sitting right where he wants to be as a minority owner.. I appreciate him giving valuable information, but doubt he has any desire to coach

Dunn is an ideal model for a player during his career & post career.

Similar to Shareef Abdur Rahim.  All Star, Olympian, Asst GM of the King’s and now President of the NBA’s G-League.

Reef is a friend of mine.  What an amazing human being.  His name in Muslim means ‘Noble Servant’ and he absolutely is.

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6 minutes ago, schwarzenegger321 said:

You can try an avoid all the hits you want. I think every rb in the nfl does that.  I dunno, maybe there are a breed that think they should run toward the defender. 

So, what happens when the defender doesn’t want you to avoid contact?

Free is a tough one to dissect.  On one hand, he CAN run over and through people and get those tough yards after contact...he has shown time and again he CAN be that guy.  However, he isn't built like Peterson or Bell or Zeke...he needs to be smarter about taking unnecessary hits like he mentions.  1 yard isn't worth a concussion.  If he wants to have any kind of lengthy career in the league, at his size especially, he needs to learn to go down...go out...live another play.  RG3 didn't learn that lesson and look how much it cost him.  There are certain dudes that can get away with it and then there are dudes like Free and RG3 that have to be smarter and utilize their other gifts they have at their disposal.

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4 minutes ago, Falconsin2012 said:

Dunn is an ideal model for a player during his career & post career.

Similar to Shareef Abdur Rahim.  All Star, Olympian, Asst GM of the King’s and now President of the NBA’s G-League.

Reef is a friend of mine.  What an amazing human being.  His name in Muslim means ‘Noble Servant’ and he absolutely is.

Really?  Dude that's awesome he was one of my favorite players from that era.

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48 minutes ago, athell said:

Really?  Dude that's awesome he was one of my favorite players from that era.

Yeah, he and I have been cool since his time at Wheeler.  Not text buddies or anything...lol.  

If only he had an extra inch and healthy knees.  34 ppg on 75% shooting his first month at CAL.  As a fun fact, Tony G was the PF on that team

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36 minutes ago, schwarzenegger321 said:

You can try an avoid all the hits you want. I think every rb in the nfl does that.  I dunno, maybe there are a breed that think they should run toward the defender. 

So, what happens when the defender doesn’t want you to avoid contact?

You're making it an absolute thing. It's not get hit or don't get hit. It's "pick the ones you don't have to take and don't take those". Some hits you just can't avoid. That's football. But some hits you can and don't have to. Freeman isn't Mike Alstott, for example. He can't deliver the punishment with his frame, even though he runs a physical, aggressive style, compared to Alstott. 

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2 minutes ago, vel said:

You're making it an absolute thing. It's not get hit or don't get hit. It's "pick the ones you don't have to take and don't take those". Some hits you just can't avoid. That's football. But some hits you can and don't have to. Freeman isn't Mike Alstott, for example. He can't deliver the punishment with his frame, even though he runs a physical, aggressive style, compared to Alstott. 

I’ve always seen Free’s issue is how he delivers hits.  Too often his head does the hitting

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Free’s running style (quickness, exploding and initiating contact) is what got him to the NFL. He has to change his mentality first and then he won’t be the same player. So it’s not like he’s going to be the same guy or as effective if he changes, but it could increase his longevity in the league. I’d take him right now for two more healthy seasons and be very happy.

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2 hours ago, MAD597 said:

Maybe Dunn can talk to Freeman about not being a selfish punk *** ***** about contracts during our SB bye week and also not whiffing blocks on your QB?  

For his size Dunn was a good blocker something Freeman need to learn about.

LOL...still batting 1000.000 with another clueless post. 

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