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'Hard Knocks' Episode 1 recap: Falcons reboot machine

No one gets cut in the season premiere of Hard Knocks.

I can't remember the last time this series went its first 60 minutes without showing at least one sorry sucker getting his dreams pulverized in HD. In a twist, the hammer actually comes from the other direction this time.

Peria Jerry, a former first-round pick who never got over the hump, has decided to retire. NFL Films cameras capture the reaction of teammates as rumors spread through buildings in and around Flowery Branch. "Can I Google it?" Steven Jackson asks incredulously.

Cut to a stone-faced Jerry, seated across from Mike Smith in the office of the Falcons coach. Jerry formally reveals his intentions. When Smith asks his now former defensive tackle what he plans to do next, Jerry doesn't lay out any plan. In fact, it's abundantly clear there is no plan. Peria Jerry just didn't want to play football anymore.

"There's no turning back when you make a decision like this," Smith cautions. For Jerry, this is the reward, not the cost.

The scene left me thinking of all the players we've watched get coldly discarded across the deepening history of Hard Knocks. How many of those guys were watching on Tuesday night? Did Jerry's decision confuse them? Did it make them mad? Or was it cathartic -- the cutthroat model of the sport being turned on its ear?

Peria Jerry wants a change. So do the Falcons. The one-time Super Bowl contender stumbled to a 4-12 record in 2013. To hear Falcons players and coaches tell it, all the organization's ills could be pinned on the ugly creep of complacency that had permeated the operation. That's the neat catch-all, anyway.

Smith, a seventh-year head coach who can't feel quite as secure as he used to, shouldered the blame.

"Last year, we believe, is an anamoly," he said. "I think I maybe lost my way a little bit, and I take full responsibility for it."

Finding a way to lift that shapeless malaise appears to be the No. 1 priority of the Atlanta Falcons in the first week of training camp. We see the effort undertaken in the film room, where the coaches run video of high-intensity training camp practices from 2008 -- Smith's first year as coach. That's followed by footage of practices from last summer, where players loped on the back end of plays.

We see it in the staff additions. We're introduced to Mike Tice and Bryan Cox, two assistant coaches brought in to lead men, yes, but also to make people uncomfortable. Cox, in particular, comes off as a total wild-card. At one point, he assigns a poor rookie the nickname "Cupcake" for the crime of doubling over in pain after suffering an elbow dislocation.

Finally, we see it on the field, where the Falcons load up their practices with drills meant to foster intensity and competition. When players inevitably start throwing haymakers at one another, no one can act surprised.

On one hand, this can all be seen as standard football protocol in the summertime. But on the other, it's a very public admission that the organization had stagnated. It's time to reboot the machine. Change can be hard, but for the Falcons it's a necessity.

Stray thoughts:

» Welcome to the ninth season of Hard Knocks and the third season of weekly coverage by Around The League. Gregg Rosenthal and I will take you through the six episodes that will air through Sept. 2. Fear not if you're late to the party: HBO runs encore presentations every Wednesday at 11 p.m. ET.

» I'm not sure Steven Jackson can play anymore, but that man sure can lead. The veteran running back clearly has the admiration and respect of his teammates. It would be nice to see Jackson finally get a chance to play for a winner. Time is running out.

» How about a Terrell Owens cameo at Jackson's random art show? Can't you picture T.O. crashing Falcons camp like Willie "Mays" Hayes in Major League? While we're here: Steven Jackson is a legitimately talented artist. He's definitely outselling Aaron Maybin.

» Plenty of ballgame, but wide receiver Harry Douglas has emerged as the early favorite for Hard Knocks MVP honors. He's an obsessive-compulsive personality with a million-dollar home, beauty queen wife ... and a deep love for oppo-sex antiperspirant. "Don't judge me, but I use woman's deodorant. It keeps me fresh. I love the way it smells." Hero.

» Um, William Moore's living room has a palm tree in it.

» Smith and Tice appear to be locked in a America's Dorkiest Dad competition, only nobody else knows about it. When Smith steps away from his desk and we get the reveal of boat shorts and Teva sandals, you can almost hear the Mike & The Mechanics record playing at a responsible volume.

»I wrote Monday that Vegas had already taken a Kim Zolciak Hard Knocks appearance off the board. When we meet Zolciak -- within the first 10 minutes! -- she's lounging in her expansive living room with husband Kroy Biermann and their children. What is the family watching on TV? Her reality show, of course.

» Loved this awkward moment: Tice leans toward Falcons owner Arthur Blank during practice and says, "Mr. Blank, we just got to get them to act like New Yorkers like you and I, then we'll be OK, right?" Blank looks at Tice like he's a fan who ran on the field.

» "You catch that, you're going to eat steak. You drop that, you're going to keep eating Kentucky Fried Chicken." -- Roddy White on the fleeting nature of opportunity in the NFL.

» "Who is John Elway?"

The latest Around The League Podcast makes sense of Andy Dalton's new contract and takes a look at the Giants' evolving backfield.

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