Free­man em­braces Gi­ant op­por­tu­nity

The Times-Tribune - - FOOTBALL - BOB GLAUBER Com­men­tary BOB GLAUBER is a colum­nist for News­day.

At his best, Devonta Free­man was one of the most im­pact­ful run­ning backs in the NFL, a slasher who could get through just the tini­est of creases and turn it into a big gain. The 5-8, 208-pound tail­back was a key con­trib­u­tor in the Falcons’ 2016 Su­per Bowl sea­son, pro­duc­ing a sec­ond con­sec­u­tive 1,000-yard sea­son with 11 touch­downs and pair­ing with Tevin Cole­man as one of the league’s best one-two punches.

But that was then and this is now: the 28-year-old Free­man hasn’t played a full sea­son since and was re­leased by the Falcons af­ter rush­ing for just 656 yards and two touch­downs last sea­son.

Free­man in­sists there is still good foot­ball in him, and he’s anx­ious to con­vince those who ques­tion whether his NFL shelf life might soon be over. The Gi­ants can only hope Free­man can sum­mon the best of what he once was as they move on with­out Saquon Barkley, who was lost to a sea­son-end­ing knee in­jury last Sun­day in Chicago.

“I know I still have a lot in the tank,” said Free­man, who signed a one-year deal worth up to $3 mil­lion ear­lier this week. “This was a great op­por­tu­nity at the right time, com­ing in and try­ing to com­pete to work to get a job and con­tinue to get bet­ter.”

Free­man was in Philadel­phia get­ting a look-see from the Ea­gles when Barkley was hurt, and once the Gi­ants con­tacted him, he knew this would be the right fit. The Seahawks had pre­vi­ously ex­pressed in­ter­est in Free­man, but a Gi­ants team with­out Barkley fig­ures to give Free­man the best chance to re­cap­ture the form that once made him one of the league’s best.

“I just want to go out and have fun,” he said. “It’s a long sea­son, a tough sea­son, so just try to stay healthy, win one game at a time and when it’s all said and done, hope­fully win the big game.”

OK, so maybe he’s be­ing overly op­ti­mistic/delu­sional about win­ning the big game — i.e. the Su­per Bowl — with this team. It’s not hap­pen­ing. The Gi­ants are 0-2, al­ready thin at the skill po­si­tions with in­juries to Barkley and wide re­ceiver Ster­ling Shep­ard and they’re not yet ready to match up with the NFL’S best. But a re­ju­ve­nated Free­man can cer­tainly help right the ship, as long as he can get back to a rea­son­able ver­sion of what he once was.

That may be ex­pect­ing a lot, though. He and Cole­man nearly had a re­union this week­end now that Cole­man is with the 49ers. But a knee in­jury against the Jets likely will keep him out Sun­day.

That leaves Free­man as the last man stand­ing — for now, any­way.

“A lot of ball left, a lot of games to be played,” Free­man said. “I’m for­tu­nate and blessed to be on this team. This is a young team, and I’m happy about the op­por­tu­nity and I just think there’s a lot of growth for this team, for my­self. I’m here just to help con­trib­ute as much as I can and help these guys out. That’s the main thing.”

Coach Joe Judge wouldn’t di­vulge his plans with Free­man, nor would he say which of his backs — Wayne Gall­man, Dion Lewis or Free­man — would start the game. When asked if he might go with an empty back­field to start the game,

Judge joked, “I’ve got to call my bookie in Ve­gas first, then I’ll let you know.”

It could very well be a run­ning-back-by-com­mit­tee ap­proach, some­thing that Free­man had be­fore with the Falcons. He’s all-in with what­ever the Gi­ants need from him.

“What­ever I’m asked to do,” he said, “I just try to take ad­van­tage of my op­por­tu­nity and con­trib­ute as much as I can.”

And as for the idea that he’s get­ting too old to play, Free­man said age is rel­a­tive.

“I feel like it’s all up to you, the way you take care of your body,” he said. “You can be as young as you want to be.”

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