When the Georgia Dome lights are turned on Sunday, further illuminating the 90th-career matchup between the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons (ATL leads 46-43), it'd be tough to think of a bigger stage for Falcons rookies to make their NFL debuts, including top-pick Jake Matthews.
Following a stellar four-year career at Texas A&M, Matthews was selected with the team's sixth-overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. What ensued was an offseason of OTAs (organized team activities), rookie minicamp, training camp, which included combined practices with the Tennessee Titans and Houston Texans, as well as four preseason games. And now, it's time for the real fun to begin.
"I'm excited," Matthews said. "After putting in all this work and going through the whole preseason, getting all those reps and getting comfortable with it (left tackle), I'm excited to kick this thing off. I take every play personally; I want to do the absolute very best that I can."
During his first regular-season start, Matthews will likely see plenty of Saints DE Cameron Jordan, who started all 16 games last year, recording 66 tackles, a team-leading and career-high 12.5 sacks, four PBUs, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries, earning Pro Bowl honors. Matthews isn't just expecting to see Jordan, but a wide range of guys, from all over the field, sent by Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.
"They're big, fast guys," Matthews said of the Saints defensive players. "They have a lot of depth and they do a real good job with all of their stunts and they bring a lot of different pressures; we're going to have a good game cut out for us, up-front, but I'm excited for it."
One of the most impressive things about the Falcons rookie left tackle is his drive to be the best and maybe even greater, the high expectations he has for himself, embracing the huge responsibility of protecting Falcons QB Matt Ryan, allowing him to get the ball to the team's litany of playmakers, something Falcons fans hope to see plenty of Sunday.