SB Nation senior reporter and Atlanta Falcons fan Steven Godfrey recaps the premiere episode of HBO's NFL series "Hard Knocks."
Welcome back to "Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Atlanta Falcons," in which fans of one team try to parse hope from heavily edited promotional videos about undrafted rookies and the rest of the nation gripes about the strength of their NFL methadone.
This week: The first cut! It's fullback Roosevelt Nix Jones! He's cut immediately after (but not because) he breaks a tackling sled with his strength, which doesn't help consistency on that "toughness" thing Mike Smith tried to cuss about last week. One positive thing about Smith's terminal vanilla is that he feels more honest than any other coach in "Hard Knocks" history when it comes to showing compassion for an undrafted defensive end converted to fullback.
Hey, that's general manager Thomas Dimitroff! There he is riding mountain bikes with Lance Armstrong! He's a vegan, used to work for the Patriots and looks like an REI manager who grows his own weed. Lots of people -- including Falcons fans after last year -- like to make fun and/or second guess Dimitroff. He wasted a contract on Ray Edwards. He gave up too much for Julio Jones. Steven Jackson is likely a bust. He still can't build a pass-rushing defensive roster.
I love Thomas Dimitroff. A lot. Even if he looks like a steampunk supervillain when he wears a suit. Know why? He drafted Matt Ryan instead of Glenn Dorsey. That's the bar for a Falcons fan; he didn't completely embarrass us, and he broke the gypsy curse of Aundray Bruce.
Dimitroff: "The one problem with this gig is the incessant tug on your time. But no one's looking at you to complain."
You sir, are totally right on both accounts, and as a fan of your team I empathize while also begging you to never say that again. Please be a robot that lives in a film room. (You can be a vegan robot if you want).
RODDY WHITE AND MIKE TICE! Why is this not the whole show? Tice makes an offensive linemen with poor arm placement sing R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly" while Roddy breaks the tension of multiple practice fights (see below) by jumping veteran safety William Moore. Oh, he also gave Harry Douglas tips on procreation while rubbing the stomach of Mrs. Harry Douglas, lectured the linebacking corps for hitting rookie running back Devonta Freeman too hard and told the secondary what route he's about to catch a touchdown pass on (and does). Are some of these anecdotes a little pedestrian when written? Yep, but that's because the magic of Roddy is missing. He's the reason you're watching this show.
Are those the Tennessee Titans? It must be sweeps week! Smith warns of real, live tackling and real, live tough things when the Titans -- a team far more boring than this one -- comes to town for practice. And then we cut to a bunch of dudes in baby blue shirts getting off a charter bus anything ominous or threatening is ruined. But there's just enough of boring Jake Locker to make Matt Ryan look like a fever dream of 1960s Joe Namath by comparison. Nothing but whore sweat and whiskey.
Awesome moment possibly staged but whatever it was awesome: Ryan interrupts a wide receivers meetings to order up two particular plays (anyone notice that HBO didn't cut the audio of the specific play names? They're making it too easy for Mickey Loomis!). Then he walks through some cool, unmentioned football minutia thing on a route tree (or something) and the whole scene is meant to make us believe that Ryan is a quarterbacking savant destined to become Peyton Manning with a slightly less awkward forehead. It was probably all staged, but I loved it. Because I need to love it.
Work hard, play hard! Look! Rookies at the aquarium! Look! Rookies going ziplining! Look! The Falcons aren't giving us much access, so we shot a bunch of b-roll instead!
Who is this Ra'Shede Hageman fellow, anyway? As much as its possible to distill life experience and personality into a draft report, Hagemen is the essence of "tough" Atlanta desperately sought out this offseason.
Chances are you're not familiar with Hageman, the Falcons' second-round pick out of the University of Minnesota. Since this episode focused on fighting and the season wants to convey how #tough the Falcons are becoming, Hageman is a natural protagonist. Up to this point he's been fairly lighthearted, but this week we see Hageman nearly break his arm fighting a helmeted player.
During the draft he was considered a reach for Atlanta but not because of his skill set. He'll fit nicely into the line rotation of Mike Nolans' new-ish 3-4. Hageman, who was arrested once for a bar fight at Minnesota, is the gritty Chris Nolan reboot of The Blind Side, where the adoptive parents aren't angling for publicity and Sandra Bullock wins no undeserved Oscars. His mother was a drug addict who gave he and his brother up for adoption. The Hageman brothers were adopted by a white couple in Minneapolis (you actually see them briefly during this episode's credits, talking to Bryan Cox).
Hageman struggled with the identity of being raised by white parents, because not surprisingly, something like that can be really difficult (you can check out a great video about Hageman's family here). In turn, Hageman was labeled as having "anger issues."
Everyone is still talking about Kenny Vaccaro: Mike Smith kicks Joe Hawley out of practice for fighting, then applauds whatever it is he fought a Titans player for (we're never shown), because it apparently involved stepping up for a teammate, which no one did during this hit from Kenny Vaccaro on Matt Ryan last season, which we covered last week.
Decrees Smith: "You should be tired of hearing it: the Falcons were soft, the Falcons weren't tough. Bullshit. We want to be the biggest bunch of pricks in terms of making it hard for our opponent."
He's slowly getting his profanity sea legs!
Actual football positives for Falcons fans: Rookie linebacker Prince Shembo looks like a quick learner, as does running back Devonta Freeman, who should be the starter -- regardless of Jackson's health -- by October. And hey, I'm sure relying on these rookies in such crucial positions won't kneecap any playoff hopes. Not at all.
Quote of the Week:
"After I got hit, one of my balls was four times the size of the other one" - cornerback Ricardo Allen, inciting a nation of men to protectively rub their scrotums in unison.
"A man without a habit has some kind of skeletons." - Bryan Cox
Your Winner - The infant son of linebacker Tyler Starr: