With Coleman hurt, Freeman ready to handle Falcons' RB load

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) The Atlanta Falcons have relied heavily on a 1-2 punch at running back.

Devonta Freeman may have to carry the load for a while.

Tevin Coleman is hobbled by a hamstring injury, keeping him out of practice Wednesday and raising doubts about his status for Sunday's game in Atlanta against the Green Bay Packers.

The Falcons (4-3) already juggled the 53-man roster to bolster their depth in the backfield, promoting Terron Ward from the practice squad and signing another NFL-tested running back, Stevan Ridley.

But Freeman figures to get most of the carries if Coleman can't go.

''You know how the NFL is,'' Freeman said with a shrug. ''Next man up.''

Coleman, who was hurt in last weekend's overtime loss to San Diego, will likely be rehabbing his injury the rest of the week. Coach Dan Quinn isn't ready to rule him out against the Packers.

''We don't know the extent of where Tevin's injury will be,'' Quinn said. ''We'll take it all the way through the week and then make our determination.''

The coach is optimistic that Coleman won't be out for an extended period.

''We're hopeful it's going to be shorter than longer,'' Quinn said. ''He felt better today. He'll participate in some running and rehab, but he won't practice.''

Freeman has rushed for 508 yards, averaging 4.8 yards per carry and scoring two touchdowns, while Coleman has run for 234 yards with a 4.0 average and five TDs. Both are also key members of the passing game, with Freeman ranking third on the team with 22 receptions for 169 yards and Coleman going for 330 yards on 19 receptions.

Atlanta would love to have them both on the field against Green Bay (4-2), which has allowed just 71.8 yard per game to rank first in the NFL against the run. No matter what, don't expect the Falcons to abandon the balance that is a hallmark of their high-scoring offense. They lead the league with an average of 32.1 points a game.

''They're a great defense,'' Freeman said, ''but I feel like we're a great offense.''

If Coleman can't go, Ward figures to be the top backup. He played in 13 games as a rookie, rushing for 95 yards and catching nine passes, only to get forced to the practice squad in his second season when Coleman claimed a more substantial role and a rash of injuries at linebacker left the Falcons needing an extra roster spot.

Ward took his demotion without complaint and is eager to show he's capable of stepping in when needed.

''You work to play on Sundays,'' he said, sitting at his locker before practice. ''It's another opportunity, and I've got to make the most of it.''

The 27-year-old Ridley was a key contributor at New England his first three seasons, rushing for 1,263 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2012. But a severe knee injury two years ago sidetracked his career, and he hasn't played at all this season after getting cut by both Detroit and Indianapolis during the preseason.

He impressed the Falcons during a workout Tuesday, though his tenure with the team will likely be determined by how long Coleman is out.

Quinn can't wait to have his top two backs together again.

''They make a terrific tandem,'' the coach said. ''We love the back and forth. We're bummed that Tev got banged up in the game the other day, but Free is totally capable of handling the workload.''

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/paul-newberry .

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

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