When the Georgia Dome erupted last Friday night after the Falcons' second touchdown strike in the first quarter, it wasn't just because the home team scored, making good on that promise of explosion during the offseason and training camp.
It was also because Harry Douglas scored.
The same Harry that had a special rookie season in 2008, that showed hints of a playmaking steal in the third round. The same Harry that was lost for the 2009 season because of a knee injury suffered just days into camp. The same Harry that scratched and clawed his way through his comeback season in 2010, a season that saw him catch 22 passes, numbers that paled in comparison to his own expectations.
"Harry Douglas, welcome back," the crowd's applause seemed to say.
Few NFL players are short on confidence, but still guys need a little edge now and then, especially when they're coming back from the type of injury Douglas returned from last season. The touchdown catch was one of those edges Douglas needed, justifying his feelings of complete health once again.
"That's a big shot of confidence," he said. "Coming into camp knowing I'm 100 percent healthy, I can just be myself and do what I do."
It was a milestone moment too, not just because he grabbed an early touchdown, but because a piece of equipment he'd grown used to was missing. Players coming back from injury often talk about the first time they're tackled or crash to the turf as moments they believe aid in recovery. For Douglas, being on the field Friday without a brace was huge to him.
"For me, it was a big step," he said. "It was the first time I played without my knee sleeve. It was just big. I was glad to get out there and be with the guys, having fun and doing what I love to do."
The catch itself was worthy of a cheer regardless of who was on the other end of it. Douglas read the coverage prior to the snap and knew the ball was coming to him. Once in motion, the play unfolded as he expected and his quarterback Matt Ryan read it perfectly, as well. The pass and catch still had to be made and the two completed the play.
With two defenders blanketed on him, Douglas made the catch in stride through the end zone. Even though it was the preseason, it could have been one of the better catches of his career. Was it?
"I'll say it was all right," Douglas said. "Matt did a great job putting the ball there, into double coverage."
The pass was a strike and the receiver, in his four years in the league, has learned there's rarely an easy catch. The physicality of the play reminds most just how far he's come.
"One thing my receiver coach always tells us, there's hardly any catch in the NFL you'll have without a body on you," he said. "You've just got to be strong with it. That's what I was trying to do."
Douglas, as many fans who follow his Twitter feed (@HDouglas83) know, is a positive kind of guy. His daily posts about working hard aren't hyperbole. He doesn't dwell on the past. He's had some dark days in his career (ask him about the day he injured his knee and he'll bring you close to tears) but he's back and the past is well behind him.
Last year was frustrating for Douglas but he found ways to see the silver linings. He continued to learn the playbook, confident in the knowledge that his rookie-year quickness would return.
"At times, it was frustrating," he said. "I felt like I couldn't do some of the things I could do normally if I was 100 percent healthy. Once again, that's behind me and I'm healthy now so I'm looking forward to this season."
With the addition of rookie Julio Jones in the draft this season, Douglas and his returning expectations took a back seat. From the day camp began, it didn't take long for him to remind everyone, he shouldn't be forgotten. Catching passes all over the field, it was obvious the old Harry was back.
This season the talk has been of an explosive offense and everyone keys in on big strikes down the field. Douglas has gone to great lengths while he's spoken with the media to remind everyone that a big play can happen anywhere on the field as long as everyone is doing their job.
Falcons wide receivers must have a key attribute in addition to an ability to run crisp routes and catch passes. They must be able to block. Douglas says that's as important to the running game as it is to the passing game. A screen pass, with the proper blocking from everyone on the field can go for a big gain.
"Once again, as I keep preaching, explosive plays can be 5- or 6-yard routes. It's just everyone blocking for each other and making the explosive plays," he said.
In short, Douglas is just excited. He's excited to be back on the football field. He's excited to be healthy. He's excited to be a key part of a team whose offense appears locked and loaded.
"Anytime you're on a team with that many Pro Bowlers, you have to be excited," he said. "That many guys on that side of the ball that made the Pro Bowl and Eric Weems also, yeah, there's a lot of excitement there."