Unfortunately for the Atlanta Falcons, the third episode of "Hard Knocks" from HBO ended in a similar tone to the way it began: focused on a season-ending injury.
Tuesday’s newest episode began with a rather encompassing look at an ACL reconstruction surgery on rookie linebacker Marquis Spruill. The fifth-round pick went under the knife, and the HBO cameras showed a bit of the procedure.
Episode 3 ended by focusing on left tackle Sam Baker’s knee injury, a torn patellar tendon in his right knee. Baker’s season is done, and the "Hard Knocks" crew captured the mental anguish from Baker, which seemed even worse for the offensive lineman than the pain itself.
Like last week, "Hard Knocks" featured a good bit of off-the-field, get-to-know-them-personally material.
If you ever bowl with Harry Douglas, make sure he uses his credit card to pay. At some point, his technique of launching the ball halfway down the alley instead of rolling it, is going to cause some damage. Tight end Levine Toilolo has some neat chops on the ukulele, and in no way, shape or form is any Atlanta player allowed to date defensive line coach Bryan Cox’s daughter (yes, Cox had some more magical moments this week).
Here are three, more on-the-field observations from Episode 3 of "Hard Knocks:"
In a meeting the day after the 16-10 win over the Miami Dolphins, head coach Mike Smith addressed the team on wasted opportunities. He did so in a uniquely non-negative manner.
He posed a question to the team, asking what kind of first impression 579 yards of total offense and 28 points would have made, instead of the actual 372 and 16 points Atlanta tallied.
The Falcons committed nine penalties in their first preseason game, and Smith said those penalties resulted in a touchdown being called back, as well as "a couple of explosive plays" being erased. He also figured 240 net yards were lost because of penalties.
Atlanta’s coaching staff has challenged this team to be more physical so it can win the battles in the trenches. But thus far, the extra tough play has resulted in fighting in camp and penalties on the field.
In their second preseason game, the Falcons were penalized 10 times against the Texans. Smith’s talk about making better first impressions didn’t work; in fact, his team was penalized more in Game 2.
Atlanta teams since Smith arrived in 2008 have typically been some of the least penalized teams in the NFL. A huge challenge for this coaching staff is going to be lowering the frequency of penalties while continuing the more physical play.
It’s a given that every season there’s a "Hard Knocks," HBO will try and find that young, long-shot player that starts pushing for a roster spot.
Over the last few weeks, defensive end Tyler Starr, a seventh-round draft pick, and undrafted wide receiver Bernard Reedy were featured. On Tuesday another undrafted, rookie wide receiver was front and center: Boldewijn.
Boldewijn was born and grew up in the Netherlands, and has been given the nickname "Amsterdam." After the new episode, we know Boldewijn is an extremely raw, but talented receiver who the Falcons are starting to think of highly. We know he speaks four languages, but the language of football is still being learned.
There are some sessions at camp where passes are clanging off Boldewijn’s helmet, and others where he’s putting veteran-type moves on cornerbacks and scoring touchdowns. But one of the best things he could have done, happened in Atlanta’s loss to Houston.
Devin Hester caught a screen pass in the red zone, and danced his way into the end zone. The guy who sprung Hester by flattening a would-be tackler was Boldewijn. If the undrafted rookie continues to block like that, and finds a place on special teams, he could be a front-runner for a roster spot.
After the game on Saturday in Houston, one of the hottest topics on sports talk radio in Atlanta, and around the country in NFL circles, was how the Falcons were going to handle replacing Baker at left tackle.
Would the team put Lamar Holmes at left tackle, or would they open up a competition between Holmes and Ryan Schraeder for that spot? Those were two of the questions, but there were more.
Instead of using Holmes or Schraeder at left tackle, what about sliding rookie Jake Matthews over and then using Holmes or Schraeder at right tackle? The question of which player would be the best left tackle, had to be considered, but was it the only consideration?
The Falcons wanted to keep Matthews at right tackle all season. No matter how much experience a rookie has coming into the NFL, the league plays at a different speed, and is much tougher. Allowing Matthews a season to get used to the professional game was what Atlanta wanted.
But Matthews is probably the best tackle on the team now that Baker is out for the season. Would it be better to put the rookie at left tackle to protect Matt Ryan’s blindside, or keep him on the right side to ensure his confidence isn’t potentially shattered.
While the media argued the point for days, offensive line coach Mike Tice made the decision sometime in the second half of the loss to Houston. Tice pulled the rookie close on the sideline and told him he was going to be the man moving forward.
"When you wake up tomorrow morning, you’ll be our left tackle," Tice said to Matthews. "Alright? Go get your mind ready."