Ra’Shede Hageman’s athletic experience features plenty of variety, but that doesn’t mean the Atlanta Falcons rookie defensive end is getting ahead of himself at training camp in Flowery Branch.
Hageman was actually more passionate about his time on the hardwood late in his high school career. He was more focused on basketball until, he said, Big Ten schools started calling him and telling him what a great tight end he could be.
While he didn’t play tight end for the Minnesota Golden Gophers, he gained a bevy of defensive line experience. He took snaps everywhere from nose guard to defensive end.
“It just kind of let me see things from different perspectives,” Hageman said.
The second-round draft pick is listening, taking notes and respecting his veteran counterparts at Falcons training camp. He’s also learning from a “guru,” his term for defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. In meetings, Hageman’s task is clear.
“It’s my job to lock in, take as many notes as I can,” Hageman said.
His coachable approach doesn’t mean he isn’t getting after it. Quite the contrary, in fact. Hageman broke his helmet at Monday’s practice going against first-round pick and offensive lineman Jake Matthews.
“He’s got a hard head, too,” Hageman joked.
Hageman, who is listed at 6-foot-6 and 318 pounds, had worked with the Falcons’ coaching staff at the Senior Bowl but wasn’t sure where he would end up before the draft. He said he didn’t care what team picked him, but when Atlanta selected him, “I felt comfortable.”
The Minneapolis product knows not to draw attention to himself, preferring to watch the example of the Falcons’ more seasoned players. After all, he said, they’ve been playing for many more years than he has.
“You have to be quiet and invisible,” Hageman said. “You don’t want to be in the way.”
With that said, the rookie also knows he has to take advantage of Nolan’s football IQ.
“You have to ask questions,” Hageman said.
A little more than a week until the first preseason game — Aug. 8 against the Miami Dolphins at the Georgia Dome — is hoping that steady diet of listening, asking and watching pays off when the lights come on.
Quick notes from Tuesday’s practice:
— Running back Steven Jackson was held out of practice with a hamstring injury. Head coach Mike Smith said he’s still hopeful Jackson can play in the first regular-season game Sept. 7 against the New Orleans Saints.
— Smith also said Matthews is still on track to start along the offensive line for the Falcons. Quarterback Matt Ryan said Matthews has “done things the right way” for a rookie, keeping quiet and performing.
But Matthews particularly made an impression when he sang for the team Monday night.
“Probably the thing that impressed me the most in the first week is his ability to sing,” Ryan joked.
— Julio Jones, working back from the foot injury that ended his 2013 season after five games, has only been practicing every other day.
Tuesday was one of the days he was practicing, and Jones was regularly pulling in passes in an impressive day.
— Rookie running back Devonta Freeman could certainly see his workload increased with the absence of Jackson. Freeman, fresh off a national championship with Florida State, has caught Ryan’s attention with his athleticism.
“He catches the ball so well,” Ryan said, later adding, “When you see him in space, he’s really, really talented. And he’s smart. He’s picked up a lot of the things we’ve thrown at him.”
Ryan said the rookie still has a lot to learn but should have a long future with the organization.
— It’s not every rookie trying to make the team who has his college coaches on hand. But that was the case for Freddie Martino, a 6-foot, 195-pound wide receiver from North Greenville University.
Martino finished with a Division II-record 146 receptions as a senior for 1,680 yards and 12 touchdowns.
NGU head coach Jeff Farrington was one of multiple members of the Crusader staff on hand, taking a rare off day before the season to make the drive from South Carolina to Flowery Branch.
“We wanted to see and support him,” Farrington said.