The Atlanta Falcons hit the road tonight for their seventh annual "Kia Motors Friday Night Lights" practice, this year held at Archer High School in Lawrenceville, Ga., beginning at 6:45 p.m. Undoubtedly, at some point, the team's coaches and players will likely reflect on the glory years of high school, including the sixth-overall pick of the 2014 NFL Draft, Jake Matthews.
Coached by Robert Crivellari at Elkins High School in Missouri City, Matthews was a consensus All-American, First-Team All-District and All-Greater Houston honoree, who moved on to Texas A&M, where he starred for four years.
Fast forward through OTAs, minicamps and more than a handful of XFINITY® Atlanta Falcons Training Camp practices and Matthews continues to produce jaw-dropping moves when run-blocking and in pass protection, drawing high reviews from Falcons head coach Mike Smith.
"I believe he is on a fast track to be our starter, when we open the season," Smith said. "He has got great balance and he never seems to get out of position and when he does, he is able to recover."
Among Matthews' teammates, the one perhaps most excited to play behind him is Falcons QB Matt Ryan, who was asked what impresses him most about the rookie right tackle.
"A lot of things," Ryan said. "His size, he's strong, very strong; he's very athletic and he's smart and I think that's a great combination, when you talk about a guy who is drafted early and going to be a cornerstone of this organization for a long time to come. I think he's done it the way a rookie should do it; he's kind of kept his mouth shut and handled his business the right way."
Ryan jokingly alluded that Matthews may also have a post-football singing career.
"We got him up there singing the other night in front of everybody and he was pretty good," Ryan said. "He's not scared to get up there and let a little bit of his personality show through."
As for the teammates Matthews is going to see every day in the offensive line meeting room, they say the rookie was an instant fit, benefitting the group on and off the field.
After having a break from practice on Wednesday, players returned ready for day six of 2014 XFINITY Atlanta Falcons Training Camp Thursday afternoon.
"He's a great addition, a great teammate to have in the room," Falcons center Joe Hawley said. "As soon as he walked in, he fit right in with our group and that's huge, being able to play with a guy that you enjoy being around and that's going to be huge, going into 2014, being able to communicate and talk as a group."
Falcons guard Jon Asamoah summarized Matthews' potential in just eight initial words.
"Jake has all the talent in the world," Asamoah said. "Sometimes you just watch him move and do things and you're like, 'Man, I wish I moved like that'. He's really sharp in the classroom; he picks things up really fast. He's going to be a really good player."
The time is now for Matthews, who is motivated on a daily basis to prove that the Falcons picked the right guy.
"I take a lot of pride in where I was picked," Matthews said. "There are a ton of playmakers in this offense and my job is to go out there and give them opportunities to make plays. I'm just trying to get more comfortable with the offense and be a consistent player out there that Matt Ryan and all those other guys can trust."