Atlanta Falcons defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman just happened to start training at the same Arizona facility this offseason -- Performance Enhancement Professionals -- as Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison.
Everyone has heard by now about Harrison’s legendary workouts, including the 39-year-old veteran throwing around 675 pounds with his hip-thrust exercise.
Hageman, 12 years younger, can push some weight around himself. The 6-foot-6, 320-pound, fourth-year player didn’t get a chance to personally work out with Harrison, but Hageman did manage to improve his strength tremendously this offseason. Last year, his bench-press max was 400 pounds. And after training in Arizona?
“Five hundred plus,” Hageman said. “I’ve just been in the weight room working.”
Maybe Hageman can challenge Harrison to a weight-room battle before Sunday’s exhibition in Pittsburgh.
“He’s been doing it for a while, and I’m just getting on it,” Hageman said with a laugh. “Give me a couple more years and I’ll be straight.”
The Falcons hope a stronger Hageman gives them an added push up front this season. The 2014 second-round draft pick from Minnesota has had his problems in the past, including attitude issues as a rookie, a sideline confrontation with former defensive line coach Bryan Cox in December 2015 and an off-the-field arrest in March of 2016 stemming from domestic-violence allegations.
Falcons coach Dan Quinn noticed a transformation on the field based on Hageman’s performance during training camp.
“Ra’Shede is another one who I thought has had his best camp in my three years with him,” Quinn said. “He’s been a factor for sure."
Hageman benefited from the addition of Bryant Young, a four-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle and now the Falcons’ defensive line coach. Hageman didn’t want to get into comparisons between Young and Cox in terms of coaching style, but he admitted the relationship with Cox probably wore him down too much.
“It’s definitely a relief,” Hageman said. “Playing in high school and college, I had coaches who were like Cox, but not really. He was tough on me, but I didn’t need that. I’m well-disciplined myself. He was more trying to be like a father figure. That’s not what I needed because I’m grown now. I have a family of my own.
“The [Young] shift is great. We’re definitely clicking off. And I just have so much respect for him, just watching his highlight tapes. It’s easy to play for somebody you can relate to, you feel me?”
Hageman feels much more comfortable in the scheme playing as the backup nose tackle. He is part of a defensive line rotation that has developed depth behind players such as reigning NFC sack champ Vic Beasley Jr., two-time Pro Bowl selection Dontari Poe, and starting nose tackle Grady Jarrett.
The Falcons know Hageman can push folks around up front. There’s a little more versatility in his game going into this season. He had two sacks and 18 tackles in 256 defensive snaps last season and feels like he can contribute much more.
“I feel like my pass-rushing has become a lot better because [Young] has given us so many tools and drills,” Hageman said. “They’re drills that are like real combat. And it’s a different vibe, just to be 100. It’s a more happy vibe. Everybody’s just cool and kicking it. And I like it. I’m really with a great bunch of teammates.
“I’m just going to be disruptive. I expect so much more of myself. Things having finally slowed down. I just have so much fuel for this fire. It’s taken me so long for me to get this point where I actually understand football. It’s actually starting to show up on film and even in the classroom. I’m not going to sit here and hype myself up, though. At the end of the day, I’m just going to play football.”