It’s common sense for a running back to avoid trying to get hit, but with the game becoming more and more physical, many tailbacks will do what they can to get that extra yard.
However, former Falcons running back Warrick Dunn, who now is a minority owner of the team, revealed he instructed Devonta Freeman to worry less about trucking defenders so he can be healthy for an entire season.
“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 told ESPN. “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.”
Freeman appears to have taken Dunn’s advice seriously. The pair have a common bond over not just being running backs with the Falcons, but over spending their collegiate years at Florida State.
They check in with each other frequently, with Dunn somewhat mentoring Freeman.
“Yeah, I agree with him 100%,” Freeman said. “I’ve talked to a lot of people about it.”
Freeman, 27, only played in two games last season due to groin and knee injuries. The year before, he missed two games because of a concussion sustained in the regular season, wasn’t able to play in the preseason because of a practice concussion and sprained two ligaments in his right knee during the regular-season finale.
When Dunn told him he needed to be smarter about playing just to extend his career, Freeman admitted his advice made sense.
“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% gladiator sport. Anybody can get injured — 100%.
“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.”
The 44-year-old’s advice isn’t just because he’s trying to keep Freeman as a healthy asset on the team — he was in the league for 12 seasons, six of which were spent in Atlanta. By playing a little safer at times, Dunn was able to play three consecutive seasons (2004-06) without missing a game.
“If I was running, I wouldn’t want to get hit at all,” Dunn said. “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 said it’s normally not his intention to run over defenders or flatten someone on the sideline, but conceded he needs to be smarter and safer when it comes to the way he plays.
“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.”