FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Falcons receiver KhaDarel Hodge set out to improve in several different areas entering his first season in Atlanta.
The list included his route running, his hands and attacking the ball.
"But, most of all, I worked on my mental health," Hodge said in an Aug. 10 interview. "I've learned that's one of the most important things, having the right mindset before you touch the field. That's one of the most important things I've worked on this offseason."
Finding a proper mindset, Hodge believes, is key to taking advantage of an opportunity to establish himself as a significant player in the Falcons offense. He's working to maintain it, meditating before he goes to sleep and early in the morning when he wakes up, with pep talks and positive affirmations.
"It helps me not to overthink a lot of things," Hodge said. "Once you get that confidence in yourself, it's just better from then on out. I feel like good things are going to happen and I don't have to really worry about it too much. I feel like it's helped me a lot."
It has definitely helped Hodge go out and play well all summer. The fifth-year veteran has put himself in solid position to earn a 53-man roster spot, with a week remaining before cutdown day. He seems more secure than most heading into the home stretch thanks to quality contributions in practices and preseason games, often while working with the first team.
Hodge has played himself into good position, thanks to a proper mindset, improved conditioning and another confidence-boosting effort.
"It comes from studying, too," Hodge said. "I have picked up on my film study and being in my playbook. I pick it up morning and night, knowing exactly what to do and when to do it is another way to keep from thinking as much, and then I can just go out and win."
Hodge has just gone out and won a lot of routes this summer, making him a relatively high-volume target in practice. It's hard to say he has been that in his four NFL seasons, with career highs of 13 receptions (in 2021) and 180 receiving yards (in 2020), without a professional touchdown to his credit.
He hasn't been known as an offensive contributor to this point, a reputation he'd like to change with this Falcons opportunity.
"I'm working to learn all the positions, X, Z and F, and prove more than what people say I am, which is just a special teamer," Hodge said. "I want to prove that I am a good receiver in this league and can play at a high level."
Kyle Pitts and Drake London will catch lots of passes in this offense. So will Cordarrelle Patterson. The Falcons will need other viable options in the pattern, and Hodge could fill that role alongside Olamide Zaccheaus and Anthony Firkser.
"I need to take advantage of my opportunities," Hodge said. "No opportunity can be wasted at any time. When you're in there, you have to do your best and do your job."