The action taking place on ‘Hard Knocks’ every year is certainly real, with players’ lives getting featured in a unique way and the behind-the-scenes elements giving a sneak peek into the lives of NFL players through the highs and lows.
But, you couldn’t have scripted better drama leading into the latest episode with the Raiders, and fans got everything they wanted Tuesday night for the second act of the season.
Antonio Brown was obviously the main storyline heading into the second week of the preseason, with his recovery from whatever is wrong with his feet already taking a front seat in the season premiere last week. Now, you add in the madness surrounding Helmetgate, and the hype couldn’t be higher for an episode of Hard Knocks.
Without further adieu, just like we did last week, here’s a full synopsis and review of the second episode of “Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Oakland Raiders.”
The episode opens with another fiery speech from Jon Gruden, this time in the team’s meeting room to start the second week of training camp.
Just like last week, Gruden makes the players introduce themselves to their teammates to start the new week, and makes everyone knock on wood in agreement as they talk about the mindset and mentality for the team as they power through training camp.
“Not a lot of people expect enough from us,” Gruden yelled, echoing similar sentiments said throughout the season so far.
As the focus shifts to practice, the storyline remains the same: Antonio Brown isn’t on the field. With puns aplenty, everyone begins to question what’s wrong with the former Steelers wideout, with “bigger news afoot.”
Gruden backs up Brown throughout the episode, and starts towards the beginning as he talks with the trainer and reaffirms how serious the situation is. Brown discusses what happened that led to the injury, along with the process he’s gone through to fix it, but like following Jed Wyatt on an episode of The Bachelorette, those following his situation know there’s bigger problems on the horizon.
As Brown leaves training camp for more opinions (and for other grievances), the spotlight turns to those lower on the depth chart to make an impact and establish themselves on the roster.
First up in the fray: undrafted rookie receiver Keelan Doss, a hometown boy in the state of California. The UC-Davis alum shows flashes throughout practices and catches Gruden’s eye, but even the Raiders coach has to tell him to stop overthinking the simple things as he takes his reps in practice.
Quarterback Derek Carr reiterates Gruden’s feelings about Doss, expressing his love for the young receiver while also discussing his tendency to get in his own head and make simple mistakes. If he hopes to make the team, he’ll have to stay away from the easy drops throughout camp.
We get our usual practice montage, with highlights of the familiar faces we’ve seen through the first two episodes of the season. As usual, we have to elaborate on the red, non-contact jerseys, with Carr taking a tumble midway through a practice. The incident forces Gruden to tell players and coaches alike that those issues won’t be tolerated.
“Protect the merchandise, man,” Gruden said.
HBO continues to establish Carr as a family man, showing him with his sons Dallas and Decker on the field after practice. While Carr enjoys the life of a starting quarterback, we get our usual focus on the race for the backup spot, with Mike Glennon and Nathan Peterman battling for the honor this year.
Both quarterbacks have their flaws, with Gruden yelling at the veteran Glennon for messing up a snap count, and giving a stern warning to Peterman about his pace of play as if the duo was teeing off on the ninth hole at a local golf course.
We get a comedy break for some rookie hazing, with Hunter Renfrow and Maxx Crosby forced to hop on the mic and sing some tunes for the others in the meeting room. Renfrow’s performance of “Lean on Me” doesn’t get any love, but Crosby gets the crowd going with his rendition of T-Pain’s “Buy You A Drank,” before he gets some screen time in the episode.
The rookie defensive end goes with his girlfriend to get some new ink at a local tattoo parlor, with the two discussing the differences in his lifestyle between his time on and off the field. He talks about having a veteran like Antonio Brown in the locker room, but AB still has yet to be seen in the episode.
The Rams come to town for joint practices ahead of the two teams’ preseason opener against each other, with Gruden praising their stars ahead of their arrival. Between Aaron Donald, Jared Goff, Todd Gurley and more, there’s plenty of talent for the young Raiders roster to work with, while the absence of their key veteran continues to be a talking point.
Football fans get a cool look at the long-lasting relationship between Gruden and McVay, before the coaches take to the field for their respective teams to get to work.
The Raiders struggle on the first day of joint practices, with players forgetting calls, Carr’s passes getting tipped and interceptions being thrown left and right. As receivers drop the ball all over the field, it’s evident the Raiders’ coaches aren’t happy with the team dropping the ball overall at practice.
And again, even with the struggles, Antonio Brown is a talking point.
“Where’s AB at?” Rams safety Eric Weddle said. “Gotta get his feet fixed?”
“It’s like playing the Masters with one golf ball,” Gruden said about not having Brown at practice.
However, the news then comes out that Brown’s absence has more to do with his feet: he’s filing a grievance with the league over his helmet.
Ironically, a shot of helmets opens up day two of the joint practices, and the mood and intensity has completely changed. The Raiders’ defense is applying pressure, the offensive line is holding off Aaron Donald, and players on both sides of the ball are getting chippy, leading to a few fighters throughout the day.
The day ends with a cool moment between NFL legend and Raiders alum Charles Woodson and Johnathan Abram, with a passing of the torch when it comes to the number 24.
“Gotta be you, that’s what brings the best out of everybody else,” Woodson told Abram.
The Antonio Brown storyline gets some more attention to fill the gap before the Raiders and Rams square off in their preseason opener, and we get a wide-ranging look at the silver and black’s lineup.
While Carr sits on the bench, the main attention is put on the battle between Glennon and Peterman, with both men showing flashes of good and moments of bad throughout the game.
Glennon leads an impressive opening drive to put the Raiders on the board with a rushing touchdown, but falters with two interceptions later on. Meanwhile, Peterman repeatedly gets ripped into by Gruden after his reps, but tops it off with a long run to put the team in scoring position, followed up with a nice touchdown pass to Doss.
On the other end of the ball, Abram looks great in his first chance to be physical, and Crosby shows his own promise on the defensive line. He doesn’t let a broken hand stop him from making an impact, even making tackles with his hand in a cast later in the game.
After the 14-3 win, the Raiders head to the locker room, where Gruden praises the team and lets them know that there’s still work to be done.
“Fun to win, no matter what the stakes are,” Gruden said before letting them know that their play would need to be cleaned up to avoid turnovers and penalties.
To end the episode, we get Gruden defending Antonio Brown once more as he talks about the rise of other receivers like Doss, and Doss heads home for a UC-Davis football practice to show that the train keeps moving without Brown on the field.
That is, until Brown finally returns to the field, with the helmet grievance behind him after the league ruled against him. While we don’t get full answers in this episode as to where the situation stands, the preview lets fans know that it’ll be another massive talking point in episode three.
There was obviously a lot riding on this episode for HBO with the addition of the craziness surrounding Antonio Brown and his helmet, and the network delivered with some quality footage to take football fans inside the drama, while also putting focus on the young guys looking to benefit from his absence.
Between the late additions of footage from Brown’s return to practice and the countless AB references from both players and coaches from the Rams and Raiders, this week had little bits of the drama sprinkled throughout the whole episode. It felt like a lot, but didn’t feel like too much by any means as they established young names like Keelan Doss and Maxx Crosby.
Showcasing how Jon Gruden would deal with the semi-scandal of sorts was a pivotal piece to the puzzle, and a real reason why anyone would want to watch the show in the first place. He handled it well in his press conference answers, although his lack of knowledge around the situation at times wasn’t the best look. But, he stood up for his “guy” and “friend,” and that’s all you can ask for from a coach.
Meanwhile, adding the hometown flair with a guy like Doss, the drama surrounding the backup quarterback spot, and the comedy piece for a talented rookie like Crosby (both physically and musically) let fans in to more of the Raiders roster this week, rather than keeping the focus on Carr, Abram and Ferrell.
Was there still too much of Carr for most fans’ liking? Sure, but he’s the star quarterback, and it’s going to be tough to avoid that. The episode did what it needed to do to keep fans intrigued with the Antonio Brown drama, while establishing new storylines to follow along with, and that’s what you want out of Hard Knocks. It keeps you entertained, and keeps you watching for another big episode next week.