FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- When Ra'Shede Hageman was shown gasping for air during an episode of "Hard Knocks," the world knew the Atlanta Falcons rookie defensive lineman's conditioning wasn't where it needed to be.
Hageman might have been upset with defensive line coach Bryan Cox riding him about it at the time, but he has since come to the realization that he needed to lose weight. He said he has dropped 10 pounds since first coming to the Falcons, with at least five more pounds to shed.
"You can never be all the way there because there's always room for improvement," Hageman said. "As of right now, I'm still doing extra conditioning by myself to get better. It was mutual between me and coach [Cox]. I feel like playing at this level, you have to have a healthier condition. It's just like me lifting after practice or studying film: It's just a way to get better. After practice, you're going to see me running because I'm trying to get ahead of the competition."
Hageman isn't expected to play a high number of snaps initially as the Falcons work him into the defensive line rotation. Regardless of playing time, his conditioning needs to be adequate, even for spurts.
"I came in at 320 [pounds] and I really wasn't moving as well as I wanted to," Hageman admitted. "Now, I'm at 310. And I probably want to be at 305. Then, I'm able to move a lot easier. That's the main reason they had me running when I came in here -- to get that weight off. Ultimately, in order to run faster and make plays, I have to play at a comfortable weight for myself."
Falcons coach Mike Smith lauded Hageman for showing some maturity.
"I think he's grown leaps and bounds since he got here," Smith said. "He's grown leaps and bounds since we first got an opportunity to work with him at the Senior Bowl. He's one of the strongest defensive linemen that I've been around, and I've said that before. He reminds me of Marcus Stroud and John Henderson. They could win the line of scrimmage and not only win the line of scrimmage, but shed and make plays. Ra'Shede is going to be a guy who helps us win a lot of games.
"He's going to have a much better understanding that preseason games are different than regular-season games. Everybody thinks they're ready for that first game, and their body's going to get stunned like it's never been stunned before. And that's just a learning process that everybody is going to go through. It doesn't matter if you're a rookie or 10-year vet; that Monday after the first Sunday game is always a tough one."
It will be interesting to see how the Falcons use the 6-foot-7-inch Hageman against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday. Part of the key in the game could be what type of push the Falcons get up the middle in Drew Brees' face. When Hageman is at his best, he can provide such push while getting his hands up to obstruct the quarterback's view.
"Ra'Shede is a guy who in college, he blocked a lot of passes and field goals as well," Smith said. "And, yes, you want to push the pocket on any quarterback and get him uncomfortable. But you don't want to give Drew Brees any time. Their blocking schemes, sometimes when they want to take shots, they commit a lot of guys to the protection. And we've got to win when we get some one-one-one opportunities."