December 03, 2015

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) Coach Dan Quinn loves how hard Devonta Freeman runs the ball for the Atlanta Falcons.

Now, after missing last week's game with a concussion, Freeman is back on the field and ready to help his team snap a four-game skid.

He fully participated in practice Thursday, taking all the reps with the first-team offense as Atlanta (6-5) prepares to visit Tampa Bay (5-6).

''For those of us who know Devonta, you can imagine the excitement he has,'' Quinn said. ''It jumps off the field and off the tape by how much he loves football.''

Freeman, a fourth-round pick from Florida State last year, took over as a full-time starter in Week 3 after rookie Tevin Coleman was injured.

He's put up big numbers - leading the league with nine rushing touchdowns, tied for first in first downs and ranking fifth in yards from scrimmage - and Quinn credits his production to strong study habits, athleticism and adaptability.

Freeman uses his low field vision and 5-foot-8 frame to elude defenders and break tackles.

''He's really understood the concept of what we're looking for in our wide zone, taking it and pressing blocks all the way to (open) our cutback,'' Quinn said. ''I think we all know he's a real factor in the passing game, coming out of the backfield, lining out in empty (coverage). He can catch it like a receiver. He's such a big playmaker for us that we're absolutely thrilled to have him back.''

As the Falcons try to avenge last month's overtime loss to the Buccaneers, Freeman hopes to fuel a turnover-prone offense that has little trouble moving the ball but is struggling to score touchdowns.

Quarterback Matt Ryan has thrown 10 interceptions in the last seven games and the offense has lost 10 of its 17 fumbles during that stretch.

Freeman, who has no turnovers this season, believes the mistakes have nothing to do with the scheme. The Falcons simply must protect the ball better.

''We're not changing our play-calling,'' Freeman said. ''We just need to eliminate our mistakes.''

Freeman was injured two weeks ago on the second series when Colts safety Clayton Geathers hit him on a 39-yard run. He left the field two plays later and didn't return.

''It was kind of discouraging not being out there and playing the game that I love to do every day, but I couldn't control it,'' he said. ''I'm just ready to get back out there now.''

Notes: WR Leonard Hankerson isn't practicing this week and likely won't play. He has missed three of the last four games with a hamstring injury. ... WR Devin Hester will remain on the team's inactive list until this weekend, but the nine-year veteran plans to make his season debut after missing the first 11 games with a turf toe injury. Hester, one of the top return specialists in NFL history, said he'll be ready to help wherever needed. ''No doubt I'll be back out there,'' he said. ... With a shoulder injury sidelining LG Chris Chester, James Stone could make his first start since filling in for C Mike Person in a Week 6 loss at New Orleans. ... LB Justin Durant (ankle) and NT Paul Soliai (calf) were limited for the second straight day.

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