Atlanta Falcons Minicamp, built by The Home Depot, came to a close on Thursday after three days of workouts in the Georgia heat. Fans came to Flowery Branch for one more look at the team.
If you were a young wide receiver just breaking into the NFL, it'd be hard to imagine a better place to grow than Flowery Branch. For starters, you'd have talented, sharp and experienced teammates in Roddy White and Julio Jones to help you along. You'd have a premier WR coach in Terry Robiskie. And, of course, you'd have Matt Ryan, one of the top quarterbacks in the league today.
Justin Hardy is fortunate to be in this exact situation, and he isn't taking it for granted. Rather, the fourth-round draft pick understands he's in a favorable spot. So instead of talking a big game, acting brash or relying on prior knowledge, he's taking advantage of all the surrounding wisdom.
He's asking questions about the playbook during down time. He's letting Ryan coach him "until he can't coach me anymore." He's keeping his head down, absorbing all the information he can.
And his teammates have noticed.
"Justin Hardy has done a great job," Ryan said Tuesday. "He's really picked up things. And you can see him kind of every practice he goes out there, he gets a little more comfortable and he becomes a little more confident. His production for us this season is going to be important."
Ricardo Allen, currently linked up at free safety, singled out Hardy last week, noting the rookie wideout "doesn't say anything. All he does is come to work." Jones expressed similar thoughts.
"Great kid," he said. "He listens well. He's not one of those guys who comes in and thinks he knows everything … He's taking coaching. We're moving him around a lot; we're challenging him every day. He's doing a great job."
Jones, Allen and Ryan's comments are in line with the general perception. By all accounts, Hardy enjoyed a successful minicamp, in which he made several notable catches and progressed steadily throughout the week. If he continues to develop at this pace, he could be a vital member of Atlanta's offense in 2015.
"My main thing is to be the best that I can be, as well as (make the other 31 teams) pay for missing out on me," he said in May, adding he's had a chip on his shoulder since he walked on at East Carolina. "Just trying to prove myself."
Along with his recent work, Hardy's success at ECU is highly encouraging. There, he set an NCAA record by tallying 387 career catches — many of which came over the middle, where he'll see plenty of time in Atlanta.
The Falcons did a good job moving the chains in 2014 — they finished __ in third down conversion rate — and adding Hardy, who gained first downs on more than 70 percent of his senior receptions, should only make the offense more challenging to defend.
"(The slot) is normally where I played in college," said Hardy. "That's just where I'm familiar with. The main goal I have as a player is to be the best I can be to help the team win."