The first scenes of the HBO documentary "Hard Knocks" told a story that the Atlanta Falcons want to get out to everyone around the NFL.
Last season’s 4-12 performance was an anomaly.
In reality, the Oklahoma drill the Falcons were running on TV didn’t happen until July 28, the fourth training camp session of the season. On "Hard Knocks," it was one of the first things viewers saw.
The Falcons’ first padded was on July 28, and therefore the first time an Oklahoma drill could be launched. There’s no reason to cry foul here, HBO wasn’t trying to pull a fast one. The editors of the show were, however, trying to hammer home a point.
This team is going through a very physical training camp, and Atlanta’s offseason edict of improved toughness and physicality is turning into reality.
Viewers watched what some players like Bear Pascoe, Steven Jackson, Kroy Biermann and Tyler Starr did in the days leading up to camp. Players’ homes were featured; living arrangements at camp were as well. The atmosphere in team meetings was on display.
HBO showed a lot of fighting amongst the players too. That’s been a reality of camp thus far, as the tally for fist fights this year is already greater than the previous three years combined.
The first episode of "Hard Knocks" was a pleasant depiction of this Falcons franchise. It showed Mike Smith as a likeable, approachable head coach. He’s every bit that, and more. It also exhibited the camaraderie–when the players weren’t throwing punches–that’s built as 90 players live together and work together in close quarters.
There were a number of great moments, and great quotes, in Tuesday’s first episode of "Hard Knocks." Here are some of the better one-liners, with commentary.
During a drill that pitted the offensive and defensive lines against one another, Biermann and rookie offensive tackle Jake Matthews got into a shoving match that ended with punches being thrown.
From the rookie’s standpoint, it was good to see that he wasn’t taking bull from anyone, even on the first day. That shows a level of toughness and confidence that’s not teachable. In the case of Biermann, the fact that he’s chomping at the bit to be aggressive, and to hit and take anyone out in his path, is also a positive for the Falcons.
Linebacker Kroy Biermann missed 14 games in 2013 with a torn Achilles. He’s fighting to return to full strength in 2014, and fighting with anyone who stands in his way.
Biermann missed 14 games last season after tearing his Achilles. He’s working his way back from the injury, and even though he might not be completely healed, his temperament is in the perfect place.
You might expect that Douglas said this after someone caught him in the act of freshening up. But no, this was an uninhibited, freely-offered statement made directly to the HBO cameras.
Douglas might not live this down anytime soon. But on the flip side, he did mention the brand name of the women’s deodorant he uses. Maybe some endorsement money will be coming Douglas’ way.
When the Falcons left the team facility after the 2013 season, Smith had the players take pictures with shirts off. The plan was to take similar photos upon arrival at camp in 2014, to see what kind of physical progress, or lack thereof, was apparent.
In a team meeting, Smith showed some before and after pictures. Offensive lineman Peter Konz and linebacker Paul Worrilow were two of the players that beefed up. Smith even had some fun with Photoshop, and displayed some doctored images of kicker Matt Bryant.
The HBO crew had some fun with Smith by digging out footage of the coach in 2001, when "Hard Knocks" was covering the Baltimore Ravens. Smith was an assistant then, and had what would now be considered a rather outdated and unflattering mustache.
No one is immune to before and after photos.
Apparently, Tice went looking for some equipment to use in offensive line drills. He found what he wanted, but the piece hadn’t been used in some time. It had cobwebs on it, and Tice said grass was growing from it.
That’s when he jokingly took a shot at the 2013 offensive line.
What wasn’t shown on "Hard Knocks" was the fact that Tice has really revamped the way the offensive line practices. From much more one-on-one time coaching on the field, to constructive– and sometimes less-than-constructive–criticism, to new drills focused on turning an offensive line that allowed its quarterback to get sacked 44 times last season around, Tice’s presence has been absolutely beneficial to the Falcons already.
When most rookies were forced to sing in front of the team, Southward had a better idea. He was going to try and drum up laughs through imitation. His target was Armstrong.
Southward (as Armstrong): "Hey (Bernard) Reedy. What receivers do we have on this team?"
Voice off screen: "Julio and Roddy."
Southward (as Armstrong): "How many balls we got?"
Voice off screen: "One."
Southward (as Armstrong): "Better get your a– on special teams."
Maybe the singing should be put aside for stand-up comedy. Southward’s bit brought laughter to the room. And his message, actually Armstrong’s original words, ring 100 percent true. If you’re a young player trying to find a spot on a 53-man roster in the NFL, get your a– on special teams.
Rumph was given the nickname "Cupcake" by defensive line coach Bryan Cox, who told Rumph he couldn’t shed it until he made it through two practice sessions with good performances.
The nickname spread through camp quickly.
As you would expect from an undrafted rookie, the learning curve in camp is steep. It took Rumph some time to put back-to-back good practices in the books. But he finally pulled it off, and got rid of the nickname.
Umenyiora and White were engaged in a little verbal game of "You’ve got a better life because…" At first it was just a little fun-and-games action before another drill started. But Umenyiora took the conversation to a serious level for a moment.
Linebacker Osi Umenyiora won two Super Bowls with the New York Giants. He’s now with the Atlanta Falcons, and expects a third titel ring to come his way.
White told Umenyiora that he was in awe of the two rings he earned while playing with the New York Giants. Umenyiora told White that he expected a third, and White was going to be the catalyst.
This wasn’t just light-hearted jabbering from Umenyiora. It’s an example of how every member of this Falcons franchise feels. The 2013 season was a fluke in their eyes. You won’t find a player, coach or anyone on staff in the front office to offer any opinion on the 2014 Falcons other than a return to dominance.
This franchise feels it’s going to be back in the playoff hunt, and therefore the Super Bowl hunt, this season.