Let me get this out the way: The fourth episode of Hard Knocks with the Atlanta Falcons was, by far, the series’ best up to this point.
The episode opens with the coaching staff discussing the awful display of special teams in the second preseason game against the Houston Texans. You can virtually see the steam coming off special teams coach Keith Armstrong as he just stares down a bit and says very few words about his unit.
Armstrong was apparently saving his words for the players. He absolutely lays into the unit, singling out Devonta Freeman, Dezmen Southward, Jacques Smith, Malliciah Goodman, and Ra’Shede Hageman. Each of those players make critical errors, and he let them have it, with extra expletives included.
Defensive backs coach Tim Lewis had a quick chat with rookie cornerback Ricardo Allen, commenting on how excited Allen was to “make a big hit” in the first preseason game against the Miami Dolphins. He tells him his job is to make Matt Ryan look bad during practice and not be starstruck when he’s on the field.
Now it was defensive line coach Bryan Cox’s turn. He jumped on Hageman, showing him the film of the second preseason game. Hageman is trying his best not to watch by covering his face with his shirt because he knows his performance was bad. Cox demands he have a bit more pride in his play, and proceeds to make the rookie do some conditioning exercises.
Hageman flashes his immaturity a bit, ignoring Cox as he’s being instructed to run more. Eventually, he starts to run again. You have to listen to your coach, but it’s imperative when you’re an unproven rookie.
Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan is a bit more benevolent. During stretching exercises, he gives a hint to rookie linebacker Prince Shembo: “You’ll know when you’re about to be cut. Coach [Mike Smith] stops talking to you.”
Shembo doesn’t have anything to worry about, though. Against the Tennessee Titans, he started next to Paul Worrilow inside and played well into the second half. I think it’s all but certain he’s taken the job from Joplo Bartu.
Wide receivers coach Terry Robiskie wasn’t pleased with the efforts of Julio Jones and Roddy White. He promises to work them hard in practice, and we see White taking plenty of reps and noting how he’s being worked hard. Of course, William Moore talked a little trash to White about his workload, too.
We learn Joe Hawley has a nickname – it’s Joe “Brawley” due to his penchant for, well, brawling. It’s strange, then, that a fighting guy such as Hawley does pottery on his days off. And hey – he’s pretty good at it, too.
The reprimanding that went on following the second preseason game seems to have a positive effect on the players – particularly the starters – as they show up against the Titans in the third preseason game. Armstrong was particularly pleased with how well his special teams unit played.
The episode ends with the not-so-fun part of the NFL business: cuts. It’s sobering to see players who are trying to live their dreams being cut from the team, but the Falcons front office received high praise from veteran safety Tyrell Johnson. He commended the organization on genuinely caring for the players in the locker room.
It was definitely the best episode of the series, and it’ll be a tall order for the season finale to beat this episode. Either way, I can’t wait for next Tuesday night.
Follow Kendall on Twitter @projectjax.