East Rutherford, N.J. – Devonta Freeman runs hard and speaks softly.
The veteran running back was signed this week by the Giants after Saquon Barkley suffered a season-ending knee injury on Sunday in Chicago. Because he's a former Rookie of the Year, a two-time 1,000-yard rusher, team captain and one of the NFL's most visible and popular players, Barkley will continue to cast a long shadow even when he's out of uniform. And that's fine with Freeman, whose first public comments today since joining the team oozed of humbleness and gratitude without even a hint of swagger.
"(I'm) just a guy that wants to come in and contribute as much as I can, work hard, gain these guys' respect and trust," said Freeman, who will make his Giants debut Sunday in MetLife Stadium against the San Francisco 49ers. "Just whatever I'm asked to do, do it to the best of my ability. Just continue to take advantage of the opportunity. I think that's the most important thing.
"There's a lot of ball left. There are a lot of games to be played. I'm fortunate and blessed to be on this team. It's a young team. I'm happy about the opportunity. I just think it's a lot of growth for this team, for myself. I'm just here to help contribute as much as I can and be a part of this team. Just come in and do what I can do, do my best, and just help out these guys as much as I can. I think that's the main thing."
Freeman arrives with a production-laden resume. He played six seasons for the Atlanta Falcons for whom he amassed 3,972 rushing yards, 257 receptions, 43 touchdowns and two Pro Bowl appearances. And that doesn't include his postseason contributions, including 235 yards on the ground, 16 catches and five scores, including one in Super Bowl LI vs. the New England Patriots.
"We're happy to have Devonta," coach Joe Judge said. "The thing I see with him is he's a ball guy. You can tell this guy has a lot of passion for the game, he has a lot of experience, he plays hard, he practices hard. I was very impressed yesterday out at practice with the fire he practiced with, the attention to detail, how fast he picked up on a lot of our system. He's an experienced guy, but sometimes experience in other systems doesn't always translate over to knowing the alphabet of what you're doing. But he really did a good job of understanding what we're doing in practice, being able to get in the huddle, break the huddle, know what to do and do it very effectively. It was very encouraging on day one."
Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett has seen Freeman play at a high level. In two games against Garrett's Dallas Cowboys, Freeman totaled 196 yards from scrimmage, averaged 4.5 yards a carry and scored three touchdowns.
"For us to be able to sign a guy like Devonta Freeman is a real bonus for us," Garrett said. "He came in and had a good workout the other day and practiced well yesterday. We want to see how he handles the work as the week goes on. He's obviously been a really good football player in this league for a while. He's a smart guy, he's a football guy, he's instinctive. We'll try to get him up to speed as quickly as we can and just keep going back to work.
Freeman joins a backfield that includes Dion Lewis, Wayne Gallman and Eli Penny. But none of them are as dynamic as Barkley.
"Saquon is a great, great football player and really impactful player both in the run game and the passing game throughout his career," Garrett said. "He was going to be a big part of what we wanted to do this year. Now we have to adjust. Again, we feel confident in the guys we have behind him in Dion and Wayne and now Devonta. Give those guys opportunities both in the run game and the pass game from that running back position."
That Freeman's first game is against San Francisco brings with it some symmetry for Freeman. The 49ers are coached by Kyle Shanahan, who was Freeman's offensive coordinator in Atlanta in 2015-16. In those two seasons, Freeman totaled 2,135 rushing yards, 127 catches and 27 touchdowns and was twice selected to the Pro Bowl.
"They're getting a hell of a player and a hell of a guy," Shanahan said. "I love (Freeman), hell of a pickup for you guys at this time of year. He's a really good runner, he's really good out of the backfield as a receiver and a great teammate to have around."
On Sunday, Freeman was in Philadelphia where they only game being televised was Eagles-Rams. He was watching the game when an alert flashed that Barkley was injured. It was revealed Monday he had torn his right ACL.
The Giants soon reached out to Freeman, who was not in a team's camp this summer after the Falcons released him on March 16. True to his character, Freeman expressed no bitterness about that transaction.
"I understand the game and I understand the business," he said. "As always, business decisions have to be made. I just do my part and come to work every single day and leave my best out there on the practice field, on the game field. Whatever I'm asked to do, I just try to take advantage of my opportunity, if that's catching or running or blocking. I just want to contribute as much as I can."
Freeman is 28 and hasn't played a game in nine months. But he is quietly confident.
"I know I still have a lot in the tank and I just want to go out and play football and have fun," he said. "This was a great opportunity at the right time. I'm coming in trying to compete and work to get a job and continue to get better.
"What do I want to get accomplished? One game at a time, win. Take it one game at a time and try to win. This is a long season, it's a tough season. Try to stay healthy and try to win one game at a time. When it's all said and done, hopefully win the big game, but I don't want to look too far down the road. Main thing is just one play at a time, one quarter at a time, one game at a time, that's what I'm most looking forward to."
View photos from Wednesday's practice as the Giants begin their on-field preparation for Week 3 against the San Francisco 49ers.