Falcons rookies get physical in minicamp

Jimmy Cribb/AtlantaFalcons.com

Friday marked day one of three rookie mini-camp workouts in Flowery Branch, just a week removed from the draft. Head coach Mike Smith and the rest of the Falcons’ coaching staff also got their first looks at newly-drafted offensive tackle Jake Matthews and defensive end Ra’Shede Hageman.

The rookie mini-camp served as a chance for tryout players like offensive guard Dallas Lee out of Georgia to keep progressing with the team towards OTA’s, mandatory mini-camp and then training camp. Mike Smith said that the first day was good, but with a little bit of confusion on the field for the younger players.

“Well, we saw a bunch of young guys that didn’t really know what they were doing, but the effort was good,” Smith said. “The rookies were the veterans today, because we’ve got some tryout guys in. They’ve spent three days with us, so I wanted them to be working on mentoring these young guys even though they’re young guys themselves.”

The rookies that Smith is referring to are the draft players and undrafted free agents. These players were allowed to work with the veterans starting on Monday of this week. First-round pick Jake Matthews said that he’s had to adjust a little bit over the last few days, coming from playing a non-pro-style offense the past couple of seasons at Texas A&M.

“I kind of did some similar things with (Former Aggie head coach Mike) Sherman’s offense my first two years at A&M,” Matthews said. “These last two years running that spread is a completely different game from this, but I’m picking it up and learning. I’m picking up new techniques so it’s been good. It’s a good learning experience.”

Matthews is being looked to as a cornerstone of the Falcons’ offensive line going forward. General manager Thomas Dimitroff said last week that Matthews is projected to play right tackle. Sam Baker is still expected to be the team’s starting left tackle. That said, they brought in Matthews to be the emphasis if improvement on an offensive line that gave up over 40 quarterback sacks on Matt Ryan last season. Matthews says he’s trying to be that difference-maker for this line.

“Obviously, I’ve got to go one day at a time learning new things,” Matthews said. “Most of that pressure comes from myself. I don’t let anyone put it on me. I put all the scrutiny on myself (and) I want to be the best player I can be.”

On the defensive line, Hageman is trying to be the game changer for that position group much like Matthews wants to be for his position. He’s listed as a defensive end, however he was getting plays at defensive tackle on day one of the mini-camp.

“I definitely put a lot of pressure on myself just to be good,” Hageman said. “Obviously you don’t want to be average. Just to convert from college to the NFL, it actually takes time you have to be patient. I’m just taking baby steps and listening to (defensive line) coach (Bryan) Cox about how to be a better defensive tackle.”

Hageman confirmed the fact the team is moving to the 3-4 defense, after coming in from playing the 4-3 at Minnesota. He says it is important for him to learn both end and tackle in this defense.

“You’ve got to know the whole d-line,” Hageman said. “I feel like being with these coaches, they’re teaching me the whole defense like why the Sam (Strong-side linebacker) is moving this way and why the safety is moving that way. I feel like once I get a better understanding of the whole defense, I’ll be more comfortable.”

While players like Matthews and Hageman have concrete spots on the roster, free-agent signees like offensive guard Dallas Lee out of Georgia are just trying to stay with the Falcons through these offseason workouts. Lee is one of 24 players the team brought in to get a tryout during this rookie mini-camp. He’s getting less of an opportunity to show what he can do, as opposed to the drafted and undrafted free agent players.

“I did pretty good,” Lee said. “It’s a lot to learn, (with) tremendous talent around you. It’s a high learning curve, just like coming from high school to college. I just need to keep working on my technique and things like that.”

Lee is trying to stay with the Falcons playing the same right guard position that he played at UGA.

This weekend, the Falcons are working with 53 rookies during their mini-camp. A few practice squad players from last season are also going through drills. One of those players is converted defensive lineman Adam Replogle, who is now playing left guard. Smith says this move happened due to Replogle showing good things in practice last year as an offensive lineman on the practice squad.

The Falcons will work with the rookies the rest of this weekend and in two weeks, the team will begin OTA’s.


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