HBO’s “Hard Knocks” with the Falcons concluded with an episode that was remarkably light on expletives after last week’s profane installment. Here are five things we learned about the Falcons on the “Hard Knocks” finale:
1. Arthur Blank says only Matt Ryan guaranteed to be with team in 2017
OK, he didn’t exactly say that. While looking over a model of the new stadium, scheduled to open for the 2017 season, Blank said: “We will see Matt Ryan dropping back and throwing touchdown passes on this field to a variety of players, including some that are on our roster now.”
Not exactly comforting to players not named Matt Ryan, aka “a variety of players.” Then again, perhaps Blank was just saying the quarterback he recently gave $59 million in guaranteed money better still be with his team in 2017.
Anyway, Blank also exalted the amenities of the new stadium in a segment that amounted to an advertisement:
“The beauty of this building is that it’s really designed to be an open-air stadium that we can close as opposed to a closed stadium that we can open. There is not going to be a place in this building that won’t be special. We want fans, wherever they are sitting, they have access, they have exposure, they are seeing things, they are feeling things, getting a pulse for the game that they can’t get at home.”
2. Coach Mike Smith made some tough cuts
More than once we hear Smith say how making cuts still is personally difficult for him even though it’s just business. For most of the players he meets to pink slip, Smith only offers a standard thanks for their effort and a “numbers game” explanation (or at least that’s the only part we see).
For a few players, he offers some specific praise.
To WR Geraldo Boldewijn: “It’s been really fun to watch you develop as a football player, from where you started to where you are now and where you could potentially go. It’s really been enjoyable as a coach to see a guy develop that way. We’ve got a very deep group of wide receivers, as you know. It’s very unfortunate because your (hamstring) injury kind of limits the options we have in terms of building and putting together a team.” (Sounds as if the Falcons wanted to keep Boldewijn around but instead had to reach an injury settlement with him. GM Thomas Dimitroff tells Boldewijn the team will monitor his recovery and “we’ll address that when you are healed,” so Boldewijn might yet end up back with the Falcons.)
To CB Ricardo Allen: “We have the opportunity to bring you back on our practice squad. I believe you have the ability to play in the NFL. You have mental makeup because you are a very, very tough player. I know you are disappointed to hear what we are talking about, I understand you are disappointed but I don’t want you to be discouraged at all.” (The Falcons signed Allen to their 10-man practice squad.)
To LB Jacques Smith: “You have some traits that say you are an NFL player and that No. 1 trait is your strength. But you’ve got to continue to refine your pass rush. The other thing, I’ll be very frank with you, you’ve got to be able to keep your cool. It’s a fine line. It’s on the line, not below the line and not over the line. You get a 15-yard penalty, you are going to go, ‘Why in the hell did I do it?’” (The Falcons signed Smith to the practice squad.)
3. Speaking of Jacques Smith, he apologized to the team for getting ejected against the Titans in the third exhibition game
Smith goes to Smith’s office to take his medicine for punching an opponent and getting thrown out.
“What happened was totally out of character of me,” Smith tells the coach. “It doesn’t reflect me as a true player. And I know as a player in this organization that’s not how you are supposed to handle yourself. I just want to be able to express that to the team.”
Smith grants him the request following a practice.
“I just want to apologize to the team for what happened on Saturday,” Smith tells his teammates. “It was totally out of character on my part. That’s not who I am as a football player and that’s not who we are as Falcons and I just wanted to say my bad, guys. Never happen again.”
4. Bryan Cox thinks Ra'Shede Hageman will 'do fine' after a rough camp
Probably the most compelling and entertaining part of “Hard Knocks” was watching Cox coach up the defensive linemen, especially rookie Hageman. So it’s fitting that Cox got the last word on "Hard Knocks" among the team’s assistant coaches.
Cox is eating dinner at home with his wife, Kim, when she asks him the question more than a few “Hard Knocks” viewers who watched Cox ride Hageman all preseason want answered, too: “How is Ra’Shede’s conditioning?”
Bryan Cox: “He’s better. He’s better now than he was two weeks ago. I think he’s going to do fine. He’s going to do a job because now he sees.. . .”
Kim interjects: “What it takes to make it?”
Bryan Cox: “Yeah. It took him a while to see. But he’s going to be all right.”
While smoking one of his trademark cigars, Cox explains his blunt approach to coaching:
“In my coaching style, the raw, honest truth that you get out of me, some people don’t like it because I am too hard. But my players will tell you that they know I’ve got their back. I’m hard, I’m honest and it’s over—we get done talking that’s the end of it. It’s over. Not holding a grudge. That’s the best part.”
5. Hard Knocks was not a distraction for the Falcons
As I expected, there was no drama to come out of "Hard Knocks" with the Falcons. Maybe the Falcons played to the cameras a bit with all of the fighting early in camp. But maybe it's also true, as players said, that having the cameras around made practices more intense.
Anyway, their turn in the "Hard Knocks" spotlight is over and now the Falcons have to win football games.