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'Hard Knocks' recap: Atlanta Falcons toughen up

Kids feature prominently during many great Hard Knocks moments over the years. Players are sequestered from their children during training camp, so any brief reunion grows delirious with joy.

Atlanta Falcons seventh-round pick Tyler Starr had just such an embrace with his son during Tuesday night's episode, and the moment got me thinking about why I'm pinch-hitting for this column.

My comrade Dan Hanzus and his wife Emily welcomed their first child Jack Carson Hanzus into the world on Tuesday. The child is reported to be very manly, like Bryan Cox without the gray goatee. We couldn't be happier for the couple at Around The League.

Here's what I would tell Dan and Jack about Tuesday's episode:

1. Offensive line coach Mike Tice is like the seventh-year senior in college who never wants the party to end. He was so clearly created to crack wise on a football field and in team meetings. He eats up every moment.

My favorite Tice teaching mechanism is when he makes offensive linemen sing "I believe I can fly" as punishment for letting their arms get too far away from their body during blocks. I also like when Tice promises coach Mike Smith that his protection will be sound on an upcoming play ... when Tice clearly doesn't know what play was called.

2. The episode started with a player release. There always seems to be one early cut that serves as a harbinger of doom for players and viewers. The good times are only going to last a few more episodes.

3. The most awkward moment of the show is when Roddy White rubs Harry Douglas' wife's stomach, imploring the couple to have a baby. Douglas has a priceless look on his face when she says "I'm ready" and he realizes he's wearing a microphone.

4. The best nickname on the show: Ricardo "Big Balls" Allen.

That led to my favorite voiceover transition in the show's history: "Sometimes a big pair of balls come in handy."

5. Linebacker Prince Shembo seems wildly conscientious and likable. He wants to be great and is already developing into a leader. He's the type of random player the show does a great job of highlighting. You wind up rooting for players like Shembo or Andrew Hawkins or Tank Johnson or Danny Amendola after following them on Hard Knocks.

That's one reason it's so frustrating to listen to paranoid coaches worry about the NFL Films treatment. In two episodes, this Atlanta Falcons team has already transformed from a vanilla outfit into one that is easy to root for.

6. Unlike Shembo, it's easy to wonder if second-round pick Ra'Shede Hageman has the right makeup to succeed as a pro. He seems like a good guy who can get caught in his own head.

7. Coach Mike Smith continues to hammer the "Falcons aren't soft!" mantra over and over. It's the theme of camp and this Hard Knocks season. He went so far as to support Falcons center Joe Hawley getting kicked out of a practice for starting a fight with a member of the Tennessee Titans. Smith even said you can have a "good penalty" if you are retaliating in order to stick up for your teammate.

8. The Hard Knocks theme music to start the show fires me up every time. I probably should be more embarrassed about this.

9. Matt Ryan's visit to the wide receivers room was a nice window into the difference a veteran quarterback can make.

10. Ryan also dispensed a little fantasy football nugget on the sideline during the team's preseason game, telling Roddy White that he was going to "kill people" playing in the slot.

"That's how Tony (Gonzalez) got so many catches. No one covers in there," Ryan said before adding, "I still love you, Tony," to the camera.

11. Finally, sign me up for an entire show composed of Bryan Cox smoking a cigar and dispensing wisdom.

"A man without some kind of habit has a lot of skeletons," Cox said. "Ain't no question. Someone buried in a basement. Three wives. Serial killer. ... Gotta have a vice."

HBO will rebroadcast episode two of 'Hard Knocks' on Wednesday at 11 p.m. ET.

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