Hard Knocks with the Atlanta Falcons: Episode 2 Recap

Rookie linebacker Prince Shembo looks primed to contribute this season. (John Bazemore)

Rookie linebacker Prince Shembo looks primed to contribute this season. (John Bazemore)

The second episode of Hard Knocks opens with a cut: undrafted rookie fullback Roosevelt Nix-Jones is released from the team. Cuts are probably the worst part of being a coach.

Before the joint practice with the Tennessee Titans, Mike Smith warns anyone who fights will be thrown out. We’re then given a nice foreshadow when the camera briefly pans to center Joe Hawley.

Almost immediately after practice starts, Hawley gets into a scuffle and is sent away from the practice field.

Smith lauded Joe Hawley, however.

“What Joe [Hawley] did was probably the right thing,” Smith said. “If somebody is taking advantage of your teammate and you go to his defense and you send a message to the guy that you’re playing against, that’s a [expletive] good penalty.”

Despite being lost for the season, linebacker Sean Weatherspoon wants to help in any way he can. He gave all the rookie linebackers his phone number, and one rookie — fourth-round selection Prince Shembo — seems to have taken the offer seriously. It was good to see Weatherspoon, whose presence on the field will be missed greatly. I’ll say it again: Weatherspoon was tailor-made for Hard Knocks, and it’s a shame he got injured.

Shembo doesn’t carry himself like a rookie. For one, he’s super intelligent — both on and off the field. He understood what Weatherspoon was showing him on film, and in another scene, he is taking initiative and discussing strategy with defensive coordinator Mike Nolan.

I’ll say this: I think Shembo gets the nod to start at the inside linebacker spot next to Paul Worrilow. If he doesn’t beat out incumbent Joplo Bartu, expect Shembo to still see his fair share of snaps. I’m definitely excited for the player he can become for the Falcons.

We were rewarded with more Roddy White and William Moore screenplay. After (another) fight broke out, White ran from the sideline to playfully attack Moore. A little later, Moore forces White out the back of the end zone to prevent him from catching a pass. I would have no complaints if the episodes featured those two. Their friendship is a riot.

One thing in particular that has me excited for the upcoming season is what Matt Ryan said to Roddy White following the starters’ scoring drive in the first preseason game against the Miami Dolphins.

“Hey, you’re going to kill people in that slot,” Ryan said. “That’s how Tony [Gonzalez] got so many catches — no one covers him there!”

Then Ryan quickly turned to the camera to say, “I still love you, Tony!”

But Ryan is right: Defenses are going to have a difficult time accounting for White when he’s in the slot. The receiver can undoubtedly still play on the outside, but in the slot is where he can do a considerable amount of damage.

Is there a better coach than defensive line coach Bryan Cox for rookie lineman Ra’Shede Hageman? I think you’d be hard-pressed to find one. We’re going to find out what type of player Hageman can be, and it’ll be because of Cox’s tutelage. It helps — or perhaps hurts — that he is already his own worst critic and puts a tremendous amount of pressure on himself.

While we’re on Hageman, he’s apparently well-versed in women’s fashion. He casually mentioned “Lululemon” (I had to look it up) in the locker room and seemed appalled the other players had no clue what he was talking about.

From the looks of it, a lot of the rookies have chances to be contributors this season, ranging from top pick Jake Matthews to fifth-round pick Ricardo Allen (who wore a putrid Hawaiian shirt in one segment) to seventh-round selection Tyler Starr (whose son noted he didn’t catch or tackle on one particular play) to undrafted rookie Jacques Smith.

The episode ends with Cox, outside linebackers coach Mark Collins, and coaching intern Anthony Maddox all smoking cigars and discussing naps, among other subjects. Cox also says one of the truest things I’ve ever heard: “A man with no habit has a lot of skeletons.”

Missed the first episode? Here’s my recap.

Follow me on Twitter: @projectjax.

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