If it seems like there’s been a new wrinkle every week with the drama surrounding Antonio Brown, it’s because that’s exactly what’s been happening, and Hard Knocks has been reaping the benefits after some fans initially wrote off the season for a lack of interest.
Now, after three episodes, it’s clear that there’s been plenty to talk about, whether it’s regarding the team’s newest wide receiver or the talented young players away from the drama on all sides of the ball. The best part of the situation for HBO? It has all added up to create some great television.
Last week, it seemed like Brown was inserted, both directly and indirectly, into each storyline during the episode, whether it was Gruden bringing it up in meetings or at joint practices, or players discussing it in interviews or on the field.
This week, the big talking point was his return to the team after his helmet issue with the league was (supposedly) cleared up. However, the drama continued throughout the week leading up to episode 3, making it a must-watch for any NFL fan who had been following along with the situation as it unfolded throughout training camp.
For those who missed this season’s third episode, here’s a full recap and review of everything that went down as we hit the halfway point in the preseason.
The episode, like the first two of the season, starts with Jon Gruden in a team meeting, but the tone is different from what fans have seen in previous openers. Rather than starting with a pump-up speech, this week opens with a quick reference to the short week ahead and need for mental toughness, before turning to some comedy.
That comedy at the coach’s expense, as Derek Carr calls for Gruden to join in on the rookie singing spectaculars that fans have been accustomed to in recent weeks. As Gruden looks on in confusion, comedian Frank Caliendo comes out to do his infamous Gruden impression for the Raiders in the meeting room, taking jabs at some players in the process.
Whether it’s Mike Glennon’s long neck, or Hunter Renfrow’s mediocre rendition of “Lean on Me,” Caliendo cracks up the Raiders crew in attendance, outside of one man who couldn’t be shaken.
“Why don’t you do something funny here tonight, Frank,” Gruden joked.
The first clip of the episode after the cold open highlights all of the coverage surrounding Antonio Brown and his disappearance from training camp due to his helmet grievance, and transitions to Derek Carr and the team’s coaches talking about Brown’s absence.
Meanwhile, Gruden treats the story like it’s not a big deal, wondering why there was so much focus on it in the first place.
“I don’t know what the f—ing story is around here,” Gruden said as he showed support for the franchise’s big new addition. “I give the guy credit for standing up for what he believes in. Everybody else does in this country.”
Raiders general manager Mike Mayock then starts to spread the word that Brown is on the premises for practice, with Gruden refusing to act shocked about the receiver’s return.
Brown steps out of his car to a flood of cameras as he walks to the field, and the negativity turns to positivity and smiles for the former Steelers standout.
As Gruden talks to the team in the huddle about respecting the process and how preparation is the key to performance, he mentions Brown to a rendition of cheers from his Raiders teammates.
Agent Drew Rosenhaus talks with Gruden and Mayock about Brown’s situation, saying that they’re “working to get helmet squared away ASAP,” mentioning the loophole they found about needing a helmet made in the last 10 years.
“He’ll kick ass for you, he’ll help you win a lot of football games,” Rosenhaus said.
The focus on Brown continues, with Raiders legend Bill Romanowski talking with the receiver at practice before number 84 addresses the media at the podium and says they’re working with the NFL and looking to put on approved equipment.
As the Raiders look to tune out unnecessary noise, the Madden ratings adjustors show up to cause more “drama,” catching the eye of rookie Johnathan Abram.
Abram tells the team that Brown should be a 100, Carr should be bumped up to a 90, and that his own ratings could use some work. But when he and his teammates are asked about the diamond in the rough on the field at camp, one name is continuously brought up: Darren Waller.
Waller learns his rating is a 68, and the tight end says it makes sense, winning points for honesty as he talks about having a lot of things he’s got to work on.
The HBO crew highlights Waller’s unique journey throughout his career, as he nears the two-year mark for being sober. He talks about his struggles while he was with the Baltimore Ravens, and discusses the new path he’s on as he looks to land a spot on the Raiders roster.
“Gotta take it one day at a time,” Waller said.
Meanwhile, his lack of knowledge for the movie “Fight Club” catches his coach’s eye, with the coach bringing up the duality of man as a major theme in the film: a good metaphor for Waller’s journey.
The yin and yang mentality transitions to the race for the title of backup quarterback, as Mike Glennon and Nathan Peterman continue to battle for the spot behind Derek Carr in the depth chart.
The opposites can be found in both of the QB’s playing styles, along with Glennon’s results at times on the field during practice. Just when he makes a good throw and gets praised by Gruden, he’ll throw an interception and catch the other end of the spectrum.
Despite the mistakes, when asked by coaches if he wants Peterman to follow Carr this week, Gruden says he’s sticking with where things are at, with Glennon taking the number two spot in the lineup.
The episode then moves over to another team meeting, as Gruden talks about the team’s new philosophy: Bigger, faster, better conditioned athletes. He takes the opportunity to make another quick dig at Hunter Renfrow, but the laughs quickly stop as the focus shifts to his talent on the field at practice after a successful career at Clemson.
As highlights are shown from his national title game-winner, other clips are shown to spotlight the fact that he’s not peaking in college and his game is transitioning to the professional level.
Back to another receiver we go as the cameras move back to Brown. He talks about feeling like an “enemy of the state” after talking with Richie Incognito at practice, and wants the focus to shift back to his hard work as a player that led him to where he is today.
“I feel like I’m a master of adversity,” Brown said. “AB’s actually a good player, and he’s a handsome looking player, too.”
His training continues, and the analytics show he’s been improving as he battles through his injuries.
“Men lie, women lie, but the analytics don’t,” the receiver said.
The episode then highlights tight end Luke Willson, talking about his transition to the Bay Area before joking about his calves and how much Gruden hates them.
As he lets his play do the talking to combat any jokes about his legs, he breaks the huddle with a bit of a nursery rhyme to end his screen time. I can rhyme, too.
Gruden’s one-liners make a return to the limelight, joking about Tahir Whitehead’s body as he talks about wishing he looked like the Raiders linebacker.
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“If I had a body like that, I’d be at Santa Monica Pier,” Gruden said.
In a meeting, Gruden highlights Kyler Murray’s ability to be a dual threat for the Cardinals as the team gets set to head to Arizona for Week 2 of the preseason, but the hype doesn’t last for long. We’ll get to that later.
As the short week continues into Phoenix, the message remains clear: Keep the foot on the gas pedal throughout the game if they want to put on a good showing.
“Gotta keep putting wood on the fire, man,” Gruden said. “Gotta stay hot.”
Despite the seriousness, the head coach still finds time to make the players sing “Happy Birthday” to Mayock, which, as expected, doesn’t go over well.
“It sounded like a bunch of Clemson guys,” Mayock said.
The preseason game’s storylines come quickly and in a wide variety. Brown warms up in a helmet and communicates well with Gruden, even signing autographs for fans and making a youngin’ tear up in the stands.
Glennon pulls off some great drives despite a wide-open miss to Waller in the end zone. Abram gets made fun of for his pronunciation of “salmon.” Peterman turns into a clock management specialist with a long drive. Kyler Murray gets dominated by Abram, Clelin Ferrell and the rest of the Raiders defense.
“I hope Kyler comes out one more time,” coach O’Neil said before LaMarcus Joyner forced a sack for a safety.
“Bringing the house on me,” Murray said to Brown after the game.
The Raiders take home a 33-26 win, leaving Gruden impressed with his team’s work through two games of the preseason. He talks about another odd week ahead, but has faith in his team to get the job done.
“Weird week coming up, but we’re a bunch of weird guys,” Gruden said before making another joke about Glennon’s neck as the quarterback breaks down the huddle.
Gruden also gets some thanks from Antonio Brown at practice following the game, with the coach getting praise of his own for sticking by his receiver.
“Thanks for supporting me coach,” Brown said. “You’ve been a constant supporter.”
The focus turns back to a quick negative, however, as Brown leaves camp once again due to anger with the helmet grievance. But, a quick media statement from Mayock asking for the receiver to be “all in or all out” makes a fast difference.
Brown returns to practice the next day, and all seems to be right for the silver and black as episode three wraps up.
This was a great episode to highlight the latest developments in the Antonio Brown drama, and still put a spotlight on the great work Jon Gruden’s been doing with his new stars, his younger talent and the familiar faces he’s used to.
He’s cracking jokes and keeping the environment light when he needs to, but lighting the fire when it’s necessary to create a spark the team can use to take their talents to the next level.
Add in his continued support for Brown during the madness, and his non-willingness to make it a story, and the Raiders coach earned himself a high grade over the last week.
Meanwhile, the NFL Films crew did a great job at putting some new names into focus, whether it was Darren Waller, Luke Willson or Hunter Renfrow. Add in Frank Caliendo, who could have a nice future as a Gruden backup, and it was a perfect episode of Hard Knocks.
It’ll be interesting to see what’s next for the HBO crew to portray as we head towards the discussion around roster cuts over the next few weeks, but here’s hoping it lives up to the hype created from this episode.