FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — The Atlanta Falcons will be missing another key starter for Sunday's game against Carolina.
Two-time Pro Bowl running back Devonta Freeman was ruled out after missing the entire week of practice with a knee injury, another blow to a team that was already reeling from injuries to defensive stalwarts Keanu Neal and Deion Jones.
Coach Dan Quinn said he's hopeful that Freeman's injury isn't too serious. But there was a bit of uncertainty in the coach's voice when he spoke after practice on a sweltering Friday afternoon.
"We're under the hope that it's not a long-term thing," Quinn said. "When he can do the violent, explosive cuts that make him him, we'll certainly get him in there."
Freeman was injured in a season-opening loss to Philadelphia. Even though the Falcons had a 10-day break before their second game, the running back was not able to overcome the latest in what has become an alarming series of injuries.
During the 2017 season, Freeman sustained two concussions and a right knee injury. He missed two games and wasn't nearly as effective as the two previous years even when he was able to get on the field.
Freeman finished with 865 yards rushing and seven touchdowns, along with 36 receptions.
The starting spot is still in good hands with Tevin Coleman, but Freeman's injury deprives the Falcons of their 1-2 punch out of the backfield. Rookie Ito Smith, a fourth-round draft pick, moves up on the depth chart. Recently signed Brian Hill could also get some playing time.
The Falcons didn't even play Freeman during the preseason, wanting to ensure he was healthy when the games counted.
Then he went down in the very first one.
While Freeman is again dealing with an ailing right knee, Quinn said it's not the same injury as last season.
"There's nothing structurally wrong," the coach said. "He got hit on it and it's sore. When it bruises up and gets sore, you can't explode on it. He's such a unique player, but when you can't do your stuff, you can't do it."
In Week 1, the Falcons lost Neal to a season-ending knee injury, while Jones was placed on injured reserve with a foot problem. The Falcons are hopeful that Jones will be able to return this season, but he will have to miss a minimum of eight games.
Quinn said two backups also will miss Sunday's game: offensive guard Ben Garland (knee) and receiver Russell Gage (knee).