FLOWERY BRANCH – Before leaving home to watch practice and meet with the Falcons’ brass, HBO Sports president Ken Hershman received a message going out the door.
“My daughter, who I didn’t know watched the show, said ‘when you go down to Atlanta say hello to Cupcake for me,’ ” Hershman said.
In episode one, defensive line coach Bryan Cox, the star of the show, dubbed defensive tackle Donte Rumph “Cupcake.” He rescinded the nickname after Rumph, who played at Kentucky, started to ramp up his play.
“I just love watching the personalities as they come to life on the screen,” Hershman said. “He’s a tremendous kid and he shed that nickname quickly, which is good. Moments like that make the show just so much fun to be around.”
“So far, it’s been great,” Hershman said. “The shows have been terrific. The story lines have been great. The cooperation from the team has been unparalleled. The ratings are really, really strong. They are up double-digits compared to last year’s show.
“The Atlanta market is up over 200 percent from the normal ratings period. It’s firing on all cylinders.”
During practice Hershman found himself watching the NFL Films crew work and the Falcons getting ready for the all important third exhibition game.
“You do develop some attachments,” Hershman said. “That’s just part of the magic of the show and the purpose of the show.”
There have been a few glitches. There was some confusion before the Texans game over who was going to wear microphones.
“We were also here just to touch base with the coach and team management to make sure that they were comfortable with the way things were preceding and that we were all still on the same page with two weeks to go,” Hershman said. “It’s an important two weeks.”
All of the parties are still on the same page, he reported.
“They are very happy,” Hershman said. “NFL Films is happy and HBO is happy. It’s a win all the way around.”
2. FEARS WERE UNFOUNDED: Hershman is happy the Falcons elected to do the show after the franchise gave HBO the stiff-arm over the past five seasons.
“We see this every year,” Hershman said. “There is a certain uncomfortableness at the beginning because of the unknown nature of it. But once the NFL Films guys get in here, and they see how professional that they are and how discreet they are, it tends to disappear into the fabric of what’s going on. Then the team gets more comfortable. I think we’re seeing that play out.”
3. REASONS TO BE CONFIDENT: Profootballfocus.com did a preview of the Falcons and listed five reasons to be confident.
The return of Julio Jones, Matt Ryan, upgrade of offensive line starters, defensive line additions and young talent at cornerback.
4. REASONS FOR CONCERN: Profootballfocus.com also listed five reasons for concern.
Running game struggles, tight end situation, lacking pass-rush, the loss of Sean Weatherspoon and finally offensive line depth.
The run game will turn on if Steven Jackson can have a flash-back season.
Jackson recently turned 31, so there’s a chance that his poor play last season was the product of his aging body, and not injuries that forced him to miss four games.
Tight end Levine Toilolo should be a red zone threat at 6-foot-8.
Most of the fans have been screaming about the pass-rush since John Abraham was released.
Kroy Biermann returns after missing most of the 2013 season, but could struggle coming off an Achilles injury. The Falcons will also be hoping for a third-year leap from former fifth-round pick Jonathan Massaquoi. Expect the Falcons’ pass-rushing struggles to continue in 2014.
It appears that it’s just a matter of time before Prince Shembo overtakes Joplo Bartu at linebacker.
After last season, you have to figure that Holmes, who was taken in the third round of the 2012 draft, is on a short leash.
Holmes needs to improve his play dramatically.
Here’s want Profootballfocus.com had to say about Holmes in a preview that was done before Sam Baker went down for the season:
Holmes projects as the team’s swing tackle, but his poor play ranked him second worst in the NFL out of PFF’s 76 qualifying tackles. Draft bust Gabe Carimi was brought in as a backup interior lineman to compete with Konz and Harland Gunn for snaps should there be an injury. Regardless of who steps in, the Falcons are in a world of trouble if one of their backups is forced to see extended time in the starting lineup in 2014.
Holmes had one of the great plays last season. He showed some courage by going to tackle a defender after he was beaten on the rush.
The Falcons spent the offseason with protecting Matt Ryan as the No. 1 priority and that appears to be in jeopardy if Holmes is not much better.
The other options behind Holmes include Ryan Schraeder, Gabe Carimi and Terren Jones.
Falcons coach Mike Smith said Holmes and Schraeder will split the right tackle duties against the Titans.
5. TRADE FOR THE BLIND SIDE: Jamie Dukes, of the Rick & Jamie show over at 92.9 The Game, was advocating that the Falcons make a trade with the Titans to land tackle Michael Oher, who’s in a battle with rookie Taylor Lewan to start.
The Titans signed him in the offseason to a four-year, $20 million contract. A total of $9 million was guaranteed.
The movie “The Blind Side” was based on Oher’s life.
6. HAS HOLMES TURNED THE CORNER?: I liked the pick of Lamar Holmes back in 2012. He talked a good game on draft night. He said he was coming here to take somebody’s job.
‘I’ve got to go in there and take somebody’s spot. I’ve got to earn a job. I’ve got to be on the field. I’m not here to make friends.’
Perhaps last season was too big of an adjustment for Holmes, who was late to the game of football and played at Southern Mississippi after a stop at junior college.
Holmes is 6-foot-6 and 333 pound and should be ready to unleash that “take a job” mentality after last season.
Profootballfocus.com, after a film review of the Texans game, thought Holmes was solid.
As for Holmes (+1.4), he held up well in 25 snaps in pass protection, aside from a pair of pressures – both to Whitney Mercilus (one nullified by penalty) – while not making any big mistakes in the run game.
What if he has turned the corner?
7. PETERS ACKNOWLEDGES MENTAL SIDE OF RECOVERY: Falcons defensive tackle Corey Peters returned to practice from his Achilles surgery on Monday.
The road he traveled during eight months of rehab was a long and winding one.
“I was just battling a little bit of depression, a little bit of everything,” Peters said. “It was just a bad thing, an accumulation. The season went bad as a team. The way I ended it was not how I wanted to go out.”
Peters was injured in Game 15 on Dec. 23.
“It’s been a long and slow process, a lot of hard work, but I’m just happy to be back out here and to be a part of the team, really,” he said.
Peters has started 53 of his 56 career games. He hopes to be in the lineup on Sept. 7 against the Saints.
Even though he’s a member of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., he’s one of the nicest guys on the team!
8. NO MORE D. BLOCK?: We’re hearing that the Falcons popular and award-winning internet show, DBlock, is being canceled.
On Fridays, the linebackers would meet in the locker room and put on a show for the cameras.
Mike Peterson was the original host, but Sean Weatherspoon took over the last few years.
BTW, Peterson just completed a coaching internship with the St. Louis Rams as part of the Bill Walsh Minority Coaching Fellowship program.
9. EXTRA POINTS: The fine folks over a Secret sent along a nice “Man Card” along with a lovely letter and some products, which will be distributed in the media room. They saw the Cover9@9 after wide receiver Harry Douglas, and a few other men, admitted to using their products . . . For the Tennessee game, Randy Waters will handle the play-by-play, Dave Archer will serve as the color analyst and Laura Okmin as the sideline reporter as coverage will be provided by CW 69 (WUPA-TV). Here’s your CW station finder: AT&T U-Verse 1069, Charter 709, Comcast 810, DirecTV 69 and Dish Network 6376. . . .Wes Durham, Coy Wire and John Michaels will handle the radio call on 790 AM and 94.1 FM. . . .Several Falcons, including general manager Thomas Dimitroff, have taken the Ice Bucket Challenge. Matt Ryan, Harry Douglas and Roddy White have also taken the challenge to help strike out ALS.
SECOND EXHIBITION GAME — TEXANS 32, FALCONS 7