HBO's ninth season of "Hard Knocks" features the Atlanta Falcons and debuts on Aug. 5. A 30-person crew will follow 90 roster hopefuls as they attempt to make it through training camp and find a place on Atlanta's 53-man roster for the 2014 season. Fox Sports South examines 10 of the potential storylines.
Roddy White, WR
Roddy White is both outspoken and charismatic. He's also loose-lipped and susceptible to verbal missteps. On top of all that, he's an immensely talented pass-catcher who is fighting his way back from an injury-plagued 2013 season. White told 680 the Fan in Atlanta he'd probably hide from the cameras. But come on ... does anyone really believe that? Train wreck or inspiration, "Hard Knocks" will make White a bigger star.
Mike Smith, Head Coach
With 60 wins, Mike Smith is Atlanta's all-time winningest coach. He also was the first coach to lead the Falcons to back-to-back winning seasons, and with 56 wins, was the second most successful coach in the NFL in his first five seasons. But his team went 4-12 last season, and this is Smith's first training camp after a losing season. Putting together a bounce-back campaign is of the utmost importance.
A crowded backfield
Steven Jackson and Jacquizz Rodgers were entrenched as 1-2 on the Atlanta depth chart at running back. But the Falcons drafted Devonta Freeman in the fourth round of the draft, and may find more touches for Antone Smith, who scored twice on just five late-season carries. Jackson already injured his hamstring and will miss the rest of the preseason. Freeman has been dynamic since stepping foot on campus. This is a wide-open position battle.
Mike Tice, offensive line coach
The 2013 version of Atlanta's offensive line gave up 44 sacks (the most of Matt Ryan's career), and didn't do much to help the run game, as the Falcons finished with a league-worst 77.9 rushing yards per game. Mike Tice was hired in the offseason to turn things around. His hard-nosed, and very vocal, coaching methods have been embraced by the team.
Julio Jones, WR
Julio Jones, one of the more electric receivers in the NFL, missed 11 games after a broken foot ended his season. His foot has been surgically repaired, a bigger screw (he broke the screw already in his foot) has been inserted and the Falcons will limit his practice and preseason reps to make sure he's ready for Week 1. Jones' health is extremely important to the success of this team in 2014.
Trufant and Alford are no longer rookies
Cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford, Atlanta's first- and second-round picks from last year, were thrown into the fire last season. Both played in all 16 games, and were starters by season's end (Trufant started all 16). The young defenders face off, every day, against one of the best receiver duos in the NFL, and are growing into a fine tandem themselves.
Bryan Cox, defensive line coach
In 2013, the Falcons finished 29th in the NFL with just 32 sacks, and allowed a next-to-last 135.8 yards per game on the ground. Bryan Cox was hired to help transition into a 3-4 scheme, and solidify a defensive line that applied little pressure and didn't play the run well. He's a hands-on, in-your-face coach that played with the same kind of fire. Watching Cox fine-tune this defensive line is must-see. Photo: AtlantaFalcons.com
The longshot rookie everyone roots for
Each season of "Hard Knocks" brings viewers close to a few players on the fringe of making the final roster. Seventh-round pick Tyler Starr, a linebacker from South Dakota, will be heavily featured on the show. Starr has shown a massive burst as a pure pass-rusher, and has quickly turned into a fan favorite. He also may be the only seventh-rounder with a fake Twitter account paying homage to his hair. Photo: AtlantaFalcons.com
There is no 'Spoon
Faithful fans of HBO's "Hard Knocks" won't realize they're missing out on one of the best characters on this Atlanta roster. Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon ruptured his Achilles attempting to come back from a knee injury. 'Spoon's leadership skills were matched by no one, and he was one of the brightest guys to have around. The battle to replace him on the depth chart, and help strengthen the linebacker corps, will be fierce.
Matt Ryan, QB
Matt Ryan was the first draft pick of the new Thomas Dimitroff/Mike Smith regime in 2008, and in six years owns just about every significant passing record on the books in Atlanta. Ryan's knocking on the door of elite status, and has the leadership skills and charisma to be a national fan favorite. "Hard Knocks" should show that off.