The Falcons' 2014 rookies reported to Flowery Branch on Friday to begin their three-day rookie minicamp.
1. Temper Expectations on Most Rookies...: If you're looking for rave reviews of players from rookie minicamp, you might just want to pump the brakes for now. Just a week ago, many of the participants in this weekend's minicamp hadn't even been drafted yet, and now, they're trying to cram an NFL playbook into their heads and impress the coaching staff. It doesn't always come along so easily and head coach Mike Smith summed up the first day of rookie minicamp by dampening the expectations: "Well, we saw a bunch of young guys that really didn't know what they were doing, but the effort was good. The effort was outstanding."
2. ... Unless That Rookie is Jake Matthews: It shouldn't come as much surprise that the Falcons' sixth overall selection, offensive tackle Jake Matthews, was the exception to the above rule. Matthews put on a clinic on what it takes to be an NFL offensive lineman in his first minicamp performance. Smith said that Matthews was "everything that we anticipated he was going to be" after his first session. Matthews saw plenty of action Friday at right tackle and took on some of the best competition available among the rookies and tryout players, including second-round selection Ra'Shede Hageman. Matthews shined in his first day and there was little question about his readiness.
3. Toughness Showing Already: Toughness has been the big buzzword this offseason and it's important to note that the Falcons have backed all that talk up by bringing in some rookies who are known for their toughness. Matthews told the media that there have been a few occasions during walkthrough sessions where the coaching staff has had to remind players that they're supposed to be running half speed. "We were busting lips and hitting guys, I busted my nose up and I was bleeding, but we were getting after it. That's the big thing I've taken away from this group is that these guys love to work and I'm glad to be a part of the group because they take a lot of pride in what they do."
4. Familiarity Helps: The Falcons have several players in rookie minicamp, both draft and undrafted, who have some familiarity with the coaching staff after Mike Smith and his crew headed up the South team at the Senior Bowl in January. Those players who went through an entire week with the coaching staff — from practices to meals to film room — are finding that their heads may not be spinning as much as some of the rookies who didn't have that opportunity to work with Smith's staff. Said third-round safety Dezmen Southward, a member of that Senior Bowl squad: "It was huge. Our whole first install (Friday) was exactly what we did at the Senior Bowl, so there was a lot of carryover. We did a lot of the same exact things and some of the guys that were coming in starting from scratch, I had my board already written on a little bit."
A side note on Southward: Since arriving in Flowery Branch on Sunday night, he's been doing everything he can to pick safety William Moore's brain on anything he can think of. "Everything he says, I listen to. I look forward to learning from him in the future."
5. Baby Steps for Big Man: He's 6-foot-6 and 318 pounds, but Hageman — the Minnesota defensive tackle the Falcons are converting to defensive end — is all about approaching his first experiences in the NFL like a baby, with small steps and a whole lot of wonder. Hageman says the baby steps philosophy he's taking right now will help him take in as much knowledge as he can from the Falcons coaching staff, specifically defensive line coach Bryan Cox. Calling himself "a dry sponge" who's looking to soak up as much as he can, Hageman's approach starts with himself. He'll worry about the competition later. "I definitely put a lot of pressure on myself just to do good. I don't want to be average. Just to convert from college to the NFL, it actually takes time, so you've got to be patient."