By CHARLES ODUM
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — Matt Ryan expects to make his 2019 preseason debut when the Atlanta Falcons play the New York Jets on Thursday night, and his running back may be Devonta Freeman.
Ryan has been an observer for the Falcons’ first two preseason games. Sloppy field conditions at Miami helped convince coach Dan Quinn to hold the quarterback out of last week’s loss to the Dolphins.
Ryan said he will be “excited to get back out on the field” and “just get into the flow of things.”
Ryan’s playing time against the Jets will be limited. He will be joined by other starters, possibly including Freeman, who hasn’t played in a preseason game since 2017.
Quinn said Tuesday Ryan and other starters “will definitely get a little more” than one series. Quinn said that decision will be “mostly by feel.”
Freeman’s explosive runs have been a highlight of the offseason and training camp. He missed 14 games with a groin injury last season after being held out of the preseason.
Quinn says Freeman is stronger than before the injury and “hopefully” will play against the Jets.
“He’s had an outstanding offseason,” Quinn said. “The energy he brought back starting from OTAs, he’s a stronger man than he was prior to his injury. You’ve heard people say ‘Can you come back stronger from an injury?’ I think this is one of those cases the answer is yes. He’s more violent in his cuts because of that strength. His mindset, his determination is completely on point. He adds a lot to our team.”
A healthy Freeman, who topped 1,000 yards rushing in 2015 and 2016, is a key for Atlanta’s hopes to return to the playoffs. He missed a combined 16 games the last two seasons.
There is strong competition at running back behind Freeman.
Ito Smith had the edge to be Freeman’s top backup after Tevin Coleman signed with San Francisco . Brian Hill could be pushing Smith after rushing for a combined 80 yards in the first two preseason games. Rookie Qadree Ollison also is competing for a spot.