Falcons suddenly thin at RB after Freeman's hamstring injury

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) The Atlanta Falcons are facing a sudden void atop their depth chart at running back after Devonta Freeman strained his hamstring in Thursday's practice.

Freeman spent the remainder of practice with trainers on the practice field. He wasn't taken inside, an indicator the injury is not believed to be serious.

Even so, hamstring injuries can be slow to heal. The Falcons have more reason for concern: Rookie Tevin Coleman strained his hamstring on Wednesday and did not practice Thursday.

Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said he hopes the strains are mild.

''I don't know yet but I don't think it's anything serious,'' Shanahan said of Freeman's injury. ''It's part of camp.

''I've really never gone through camp without backs going down. It happens at every position. Hopefully they get healthy fast and get back out there again.''

Freeman opened training camp as the favorite to start. Freeman has impressed first-year coach Dan Quinn, who seems to have a new compliment for the running back every day. Even when talking about the new injury, Quinn had more praise for Freeman.

''Hopefully it's a quick turnaround and he can get back,'' Quinn said. ''He's such a passionate competitor. You could see how disappointed he was not to be able to finish the day. He is an absolute competitor and just every day he brings it. He stands for a lot of stuff I love about our team, his attitude, intensity and toughness and wanting to compete. All those are traits we look for and he brings them every day.''

The injuries created an unexpected opportunity for veteran Antone Smith and undrafted rookie Terron Ward. Each running back saw time with the starters late in practice.

Smith, entering his sixth season with Atlanta, first made his mark on special teams. He has had chances to impress on offense the last two seasons. He had only 23 carries for 144 yards last season, but scored five touchdowns, including touchdown receptions of 54, 74 and 41 yards.

Smith scored on a long run following a short pass from Ryan on Thursday. Still, he has not shown he can be more than a complementary back.

Ward, from Oregon State, is a long shot to win a roster spot. He could have an opportunity if Freeman and Coleman don't make quick returns from their injuries. Ward ran for 696 yards and 10 touchdowns for Oregon State in 2014.

Ward lost a fumble on the last play of the practice.

There is no indication the Falcons will look for help at running back, though that could change if the injuries are more serious than believed.

''No. I think we've got a bunch of guys who can play,'' Shanahan said. ''Depth is always a concern at every position. That always depends on injuries and stuff that you can't control. I try not to worry about it.''

The Falcons play their preseason opener against Tennessee on Aug. 14.

NOTES: The Falcons will hold their eighth annual Friday Night Lights at an area high school on Friday night. This year's event, open to the public, will be held at Buford High, about 15 minutes from the team's practice facility. ... CB Jalen Collins, a second-round pick, was beaten on deep routes by veteran WRs Leonard Hankerson and Devin Hester. ... Quinn said rookie TE Beau Gardner was still being evaluated after leaving Wednesday's practice with a knee injury. DE Cliff Matthews (ankle) and OLB Brooks Reed (hip strain) missed their second straight practice. Quinn said several players, including Reed and rookie WR Justin Hardy, have a stomach virus that also has hit some coaches. ''When you live this close together, it's like `I don't feel too good and now you don't, either,''' Quinn said

---

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide—from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Andy Staples, Grant Wahl, and more—delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.