The Falcons came out strong for the last day of veteran minicamp, which was held Thursday morning in Flowery Branch.
While in an 11-on-11 session during Thursday's minicamp practice, Ra'Shede Hageman showed his youth by jumping offsides, but on the very next play, he showed the kind of impact he can have on a game with his imposing blend of size, speed and power.
After hearing about it from head coach Mike Smith, Hageman shook off the mental mistake and batted down the next pass at the line of scrimmage. On the next play, he bullrushed through the middle of the offensive line and was in the backfield long enough to take a break and rehydrate. In live action, Hageman's backfield pursuit most likely would have resulted in a sack or a tackle for loss.
That's life right now for Hageman, who is trying to adjust to the NFL life all taking in every ounce of knowledge his defensive line coach — and new best friend — Bryan Cox has to offer. He knows mistakes are going to come, but each time he learns from one or has a positive play, the confidence grows.
"Once you become comfortable and you master your craft, you can go all out," Hageman said. "In college, people would say this or say that, but it didn't concern me. At the end of the day, I got here by playing three years of D-tackle and I'm still learning. There are a lot of guys that have been playing their whole life. I'm a dry sponge and I'm trying to soak everything up."
The biggest transition from college to the pros for Hageman has been the realization that NFL paychecks are earned, not granted. Working means finding the internal motivation to do the extra work, go the extra mile and do what's necessary to be remembered.
"Where I am now, you have to have a reason to play the game," Hageman said. "It's not 'just because' anymore. You've got to have motivation or emotion in play. That's what develops a motor. I've got to keep that consistent and in the NFL you've got to be able to go all out. I signed up for this and I know what I have to do."
Hageman credits Cox with helping him make the adjustments necessary to the pros. While he's out searching for an apartment and life's necessities away from the football field, Cox makes sure he has what he needs to be a terror on the football field. Some call it tough love, but Hageman is glad the coaches want to take the time to help him improve.
"He's very blunt and up front," Hageman said of his D-line coach. "That's the kind of coach I can work with, someone that is honest and will tell me when I'm doing something wrong or good. He sees talent in me and I see it as well, so we are always on the same page. He's more hands on and about tough love. Everybody says he's known for being a nasty player and yelling and all of that, but at the end of the day, if coaches don't talk to you or yell at you, you should be concerned because they don't want to help you."
For Hageman, the coaching he's received has been the biggest difference from college to the pros. Learning from coaches that spent time playing at the highest level helps Hageman make sense of what he's learning.
He's not joking when he says what he's learned in two months with the Falcons would have made him considerably better in college. Like in college, there's a lot of studying, but Hageman, who is open about his love for football, said studying is easy when you get to see it come to fruition.
"There are just a lot more things to know in the NFL, it's the real thing," he said. "The plays, the language, the whole scheme is different. I'm studying and it's something I like to do so it's easy to learn because you actually want to put that learning into your actions on the field."
After an offseason of Pro Day and tryout training, Hageman says he's back on the field playing football, where he feels at home. Secure with his place on the team, Hageman's taking his first job seriously. With the job interview part behind him, he's focused on becoming an adult, working hard and making sure no one regrets hiring him.
"I'm just learning how to grow," Hageman said. "I have a job now and it's a lot more important to me. I'm taking baby steps and getting used to life because after college, it's the real thing. This is the real thing and I'm just taking baby steps and learning from the other veterans and coaches."