The Falcons were back on the practice fields Wednesday morning after their first day off during 2015 XFINITY Atlanta Falcons Training Camp on Tuesday. The practice kept the quick pace that head coach Dan Quinn has set so far.
For a professional athlete, rehabbing from a torn up knee can be the most difficult and frustrating part of one's career. Joe Hawley understands this as well as anyone on Atlanta's roster.
The veteran center tore his ACL and MCL nearly 11 months ago, and with a new campaign fast approaching, his recovery is becoming an important topic of conversation.
While it's still unclear when he'll be ready to play in a game, his performance during the early portions of XFINITY® Training Camp has been encouraging.
"It feels good," Hawley said of his damaged leg. "Just working, adding reps every day, trying to get the knee right, getting stronger and kind of get some confidence back with it. It's been a long process, a slow process. It's frustrating at times, but getting out here on the field, getting back to football is exciting."
This offseason was an extremely difficult time for Hawley to be on the shelf. Atlanta's offensive line has to shift its collective mentality to fit Kyle Shanahan's outside-zone blocking scheme, which, of course, can't be done in the film room alone. It goes without saying that the next few weeks will be particularly crucial for Hawley, who needs to get up to speed with the playbook and recalibrate the way he approaches football.
"At this point, it's about getting used to it," Hawley said. "There's always going to be a little pain in there. Just having the confidence to sit on the bull rush, push off it on the outside-zone. That's what I'm working on right now."
"The way we run the offense, it's not as physical at you, it's kind of to the side. So adjusting and being able to run with the pads on — it's going to take some adjustments. But it's the second or third day (with pads on). We're getting used to it."
Although Hawley hasn't been a full participant at camp, he's looked solid when given the opportunity. The former UNLV Rebel has performed well during one-on-one matchups, and when the team runs agility drills, his body has held up. Head coach Dan Quinn has noticed this progression and doesn't seem worried about lingering health issues.
"I thought Joe worked extremely hard in terms of the offseason to get himself ready," said Quinn. "For the guys who have to come back (from injury), it's a difficult process to go through. You're down, you're not engaged with the team, so you're working but you're not able to see the results out on the field. For him to get back on the grass and do what he's doing — that's when you kind of get back in your element. So we're pleased with that."
No job is guaranteed in the NFL, and James Stone, who excelled at center in 2014, could push for a starting job. But Hawley welcomes the competition. And, despite the uncertain surrounding his future, the 26-year-old feels good about his chances to return as a strong, reliable force along the interior.
"I'm pretty confident," Hawley said. "This is my job. I'm going to lead those guys out there."