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Hardy's Hand Skills a Product of Odd Training

If you're ever driving through Vanceboro, N.C., you'll see a small town with just one stoplight, a lot of farms, and the front yard where Falcons wide receiver Justin Hardy used to spend the majority of his time.

Hardy and his brother, Bryan, who played quarterback, spent countless hours of their childhood outside playing football.

That's where it all started for Atlanta's 2015 fourth-round draft pick, who is widely praised for his pass-catching ability.

Similar to what most do when trying to find ways to hone their craft, Hardy sought out the person who does it best and tried to replicate exactly what he does.

That player was Jerry Rice. Only thing was, some of Rice's training exercises were anything but conventional.

"I saw Jerry Rice catch bricks one day on YouTube and I was like, 'I'm going to try that that,'" Hardy said. "I used to catch bricks here and there a couple times until they started scratching my hands."

Scratching up his young hands turned out to be a valuable case of "no pain, no gain." Hardy broke the FBS record for all-time catches during his career at East Carolina, showing the reliability of those hands that once spent a bit of time catching heavy masonry implements.

In his first season in the NFL, Hardy was tasked with learning a playbook for the first time in his career. East Carolina never utilized one during Hardy's collegiate career, believe it or not, so the sudden change to an advanced playbook with lots of terminology and if-this-then-that was a bit jarring for the then-rookie.

Now, the wide receiver has a year under his belt in the system; he's comfortable, confident and ready to make an impact.

"Knowing the offense has really helped me just play," Hardy said. "Once you know something, you can just go out and play. There is no room for error, you are just going out there and playing fast."

Atlanta's offseason program wrapped Thursday and Hardy was undoubtedly one of the team's standout players. His approach to learning the offense, play on special teams and general mindset has impressed many during the past two months.

"He's a hungry guy who's anxious to prove himself again," head coach Dan Quinn said of Hardy. "Sometimes the person that has a lot to prove can be a dangerous person, and I think that's what Justin is."

The time spent catching bricks seems to have paid off, especially when offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan lends a comment that puts him in a rare category.

"He's got as good of hands as anyone I've been around," Shanahan said of Hardy. "He's a very smart player. He's not the biggest guy, but he's not scared of anything. I expect Hardy to help us out a lot this year."

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