Gophers ready for NFL training camp

Ra’Shede Hageman and Brock Vereen begin training camp on Thursday.

Jack Satzinger

The past two months have been a whirlwind for former Gophers defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman.

After being selected No. 37 by the Atlanta Falcons in May’s NFL Draft, Hageman received a reported $2.2 million signing bonus, bought a Porsche, moved south and started memorizing a thick, new playbook in preparation for the upcoming season.

And as Hageman reports to Falcons training camp Thursday, he’s confident in his ability to adjust to the life of being a NFL player.

“There’s nothing to be nervous about,” he said. “It’s just something that every rookie has to go through.”

Hageman feels comfortable in Atlanta, partly because of his familiarity with Falcons defensive line coach Bryan Cox, who coached him at the Senior Bowl in January.

Cox, who played at Western Illinois with Gophers wide receivers coach Brian Anderson, recently told reporters that he’s focused on building toughness along the defensive line heading into training camp.

“[Hageman is] going to the right team,” Gophers head coach Jerry Kill said in May. “It’s a good marriage there.”

Hageman’s transition to the NFL thus far has been seamless. But the 6-foot-6-inch defensive lineman did say he was surprised by the extra attention veterans pay to the game.

He started boxing for conditioning — something he said he enjoys much more than jogging.

And when he’s not working out his body, Hageman is flexing his brain by trying to learn a new playbook.

“It’s 100 different plays I’ve never seen before, different languages [and] why they call this and that,” Hageman said.

The same day Hageman begins training camp with the Falcons, former Gophers teammate Brock Vereen will hit the practice field with the Chicago Bears.

Heading into the 2013-14 college football season, getting drafted was a long shot for Vereen. But he flew up teams’ boards after throwing up 25 reps on the bench press at the NFL Scouting Combine and was selected in the fourth round by Chicago.

During his final season with the Gophers, Vereen showcased versatility, frequently switching from safety to cornerback.

As his professional career begins, Vereen’s ability to play at multiple spots could be key.

“I think Brock will probably play starting nickel back for the Bears,” Kill said in May.

Hageman, who will play defensive end for Atlanta after spending time at defensive tackle for Minnesota, isn’t sure how much playing time he will get right off the bat.

“The only thing I can control is how I can practice each day,” Hageman said. “Do I want to start? Yes, but you can’t just go off how you want to do. You actually have to go out there and show it.”

Both Hageman and Vereen could see ample playing time in their first NFL seasons. And for Minnesota, having former Gophers play well on Sundays could help with recruiting.

“You’ve got to have that because very rarely do [college] teams succeed without having that outcome,” athletics director Norwood Teague said in May.