“He’s getting better,” Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said. “He’s really learning how to play (defensive) line.”
Hageman showed flashes at times during the exhibition season, but couldn’t sustain his play at a high level.
“The college experience helped him, but … he was more man that a lot of the guys he played against,” Nolan said. “So he got away with things at the college level. In the NFL there are not a lot of things to get away with.”
At 6-foot-6, 318 pounds, Hageman is massive. He had his way with smaller linemen in the Big Ten while starring at Minnesota.
“He is still an extremely strong and powerful young man, but he’s got a lot things to learn as far as the NFL goes because there are a lot of guys that are as big and as strong as he is,” Nolan said. “He’s getting better all of the time.”
The Falcons were able to get Hageman some on-the-job training against Tampa Bay.
Hageman played 37 percent of the snaps (22 of 60) in the 56-14 rout of the Bucs. It was his most action of the season.
He played 20 percent (15 of 75) against New Orleans and 15 percent (11 of 71) against Cincinnati. Overall, he’s played 48 snaps and has one hurry and two tackles.
The Falcons still have high hopes for Hageman, who essentially is the sixth interior defensive linemen behind Tyson Jackson, Paul Soliai, Corey Peters, Malliciah Goodman and Jonathan Babineaux.
“We were fortunate the other day that he got several snaps,” Nolan said. “We’ll just keep going with it because there is a lot of to work with. He’s going to be fine.”
The Falcons believe they have surrounded Hageman with positive role models in veterans Jackson, Soliai and Babineaux. The hope is that they’ll make a positive impact on Hageman.
The veterans have worked with Hageman on his stance, proper alignment and how to study and prepare for games.
“They are very unselfish when it comes to telling young guys what to do,” Nolan said. “They are not protecting their own interests or own job as some guys do. … They are very forthright with all of their information. They are trying to help him. They do a good job, and they are also very patient with him.”
The coaches and players see the potential in Hageman that wowed Cox at the Senior Bowl. He was so impressed that it led him to encourage the team to draft Hageman despite some red flags.
“He’s a young guy that makes mistakes more than once, and some of the older guys get really intolerant of it,” Nolan said. “They have their moments, believe me. That’s part of the way it goes as far as getting on him. He ought to listen.”
Hageman is trying not to get too fired up about his homecoming.
“I’m going to try to approach it like any other game,” Hageman said.
But it won’t be just another game.
Hageman had a rough start in life, followed by restart after restart. Born to a single mother, Hageman and his brother, Xavier, were placed in foster care and frequently bounced around, eventually staying in 12 different homes around the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.
After seeing a video about the two brothers when they were up for adoption, attorneys Eric Hageman and Jill Coyle adopted the boys.
They put Ra’Shede in sports, and he used football and basketball as an outlet. This game will be played at the University of Minnesota, while the Vikings’ new stadium is being built. He remembers when TCF Bank Stadium opened.
“We played Air Force in the first game there,” Hageman said. “It’s a great environment and a great facility.”
While the start to his NFL career has been a little bumpy, Hageman has kept in contact with some of his former coaches and teammates at Minnesota.
“It will be good to see (Minnesota coach Jerry Kill) and some of my old teammates,” Hageman said. “I’ll just get to see my friends and family. That will be good for me personally. But I’m approaching it like a pro. This is a business trip.”
Hageman, who was adopted when he was 7, doesn’t remember much about his earlier childhood.
“I’m just excited to be in the position that I’m in now,” Hageman said. “I’m just looking forward to playing against Minnesota. That’s behind me.
“It’s just like when we played the Buccaneers, that’s behind me. I’m looking forward. That’s how I approach every day. Just like now, I’m looking forward to our next opponent. I’m just trying to compete and get better.”