Falcons rookie Justin Hardy patiently waiting for his chance

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- For six consecutive weeks, Atlanta Falcons rookie receiver Justin Hardy has been inactive on game day, despite the preseason talk of him being an integral part of the offense.

He doesn't pout. He doesn't voice his frustration. The fourth-round draft pick from East Carolina simply goes about his daily business, working to enhance his game.

"It's a growing process." Hardy said. "You've got to enjoy this process. Like I've said, I've been in situations like this, and I feel like I know how to handle the situation. I look at the positive in everything. It's a chance to make sure I know everything that I need to know so that when my name is called, I can ball."

The Falcons obviously entered the season stacked at receiver, with seven on the 53-man roster. No one was going to replace Julio Jones, Roddy White or Leonard Hankerson, while Devin Hester and Eric Weems both were needed for special teams. Hester suffering a turf toe injury during preseason seemed to open an opportunity for Hardy in the slot, but Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan obviously felt more comfortable with Nick Williams, a player he coached while with the Washington Redskins.

Hardy was inconsistent catching the ball during the preseason, but he still showed flashes. He even had a 70-yard punt return, which made you think he could replace Hester in the return game. Instead, the Falcons opted for Weems and Williams.

So what did the coaches tell Hardy as the reason for him being inactive?

"There is no reason," Hardy said. "It's just one of those things where I'm coming into a new system and I'm just trying to feel my way out."

Like Hardy said, he's been in similar situations before. During his first year at East Carolina, he was the scout team quarterback. He finished his college career by catching an NCAA FBS record 387 passes, breaking the mark previously set by Oklahoma's Ryan Broyles (349).

While in college, Hardy said, he never had a playbook -- which probably made the transition to the NFL much more difficult, particularly with the variety of route combinations in Shanahan's scheme.

"Once you learn how to actually do it, when you know how to study -- like I said, I'm coming from a no-playbook system -- so once I got a chance to learn from the vets how to look over notes, how to look over the playbook, it started coming to me a lot better. Midway through training camp, I learned how to piece concept things together so when I know I have this route, this route complements that route."

Hardy reiterated how much veterans such as White and Jones have helped him through the growing pains.

"Everybody has helped me through the process," Hardy said. "They told me 'It's a business, but at the same time you have to keep going out there and showing the coaches you can do this. And when your name is called, just make sure that everybody knows you can do it.'

"Definitely I showed something (in the preseason). At the same time, this is a team. This is a team sport. Whatever the team needs to go out there and win every time we play, that's what we've got to do."

Based on coach Dan Quinn's words, Hardy could be inching closer to a debut, although nothing is guaranteed. Hester's expected return in Week 13 will affect the receiver depth.

"I think as much as anybody, we have a Plan B in effect (where) we're trying to work a number of guys -- whether it's on the active roster or on the practice squad -- we kind of treat everybody as one big group, and he, for one, has made a huge improvement in terms of beating man-to-man, beating press at the line," Quinn said of Hardy. "He's chomping at the bit to get his opportunity."