An 80-yard football field is usually one of those things that you’d ask Jon Gruden about jokingly just to hear what wild things would come out of his mouth about the topic. For the Raiders last week, however, that nightmare became a reality.
As we near the end of this season of “Hard Knocks” with the Raiders and inch closer to the start of the NFL regular season, each episode of the show gets more important with players on the bubble fighting to earn a spot on the roster for Week 1. An 80-yard field doesn’t exactly help their case.
But, the field’s length did create for a good talking point heading into the season’s fourth episode, after the Antonio Brown helmet drama seems to have faded away over the last week or two. Combine the Canadian field’s dimensions with Gruden’s ever-entertaining personality and some key roster battles, and you’ve got yourself a perfect formula for a “Hard Knocks” episode.
As has been the case in previous weeks, if you missed the most recent episode of “Hard Knocks,” or fell asleep due to the one-hour delay, here’s a full recap and review to keep you up to date on what’s happening out in Oakland.
This episode starts with players getting a warning about going through the motions, with a reminder that Week 3 of the preseason could be the last time some of the men in the room could be putting on a Raiders uniform. As we cruise past the halfway point of the preseason, the episodes start to become a harsh reality of what life is like for a player on the bubble in an NFL training camp.
“The storm’s coming, I hope you built a ship.”
After the show’s intro, the focus shifts to receiver Antonio Brown, who’s training with a machine and getting used to his new helmet in the process.
“This helmet hurt my head,” Brown said.
While he may not enjoy his new hardware, Brown’s on the field and catching passes, working towards his debut in a Raiders uniform in a few weeks to start the regular season.
As Brown gets accustomed, we start off with another team meeting with Jon Gruden at the helm, talking about breaking training camp and heading to Canada to play the Packers in Winnipeg in Week 3 of the preseason.
“Going to a home game in Canada,” Gruden said. “Unprecedented, man.”
Gruden talks about raising the bar, and mentions that he’ll be splitting the roster as he groups up players who don’t need the preseason games for their roster position, and those who need to showcase their skills to prove their worth over the next two weeks.
One of those players is veteran tight end Luke Willson, a Canada native with a homecoming on the way for the team’s battle in his home country.
As the team prepares to head north, Willson’s coaches and teammates are sure to continuously ask him for advice and expertise, whether it’s about the weight of a Canadian football, formal greetings, a bartering system, or the country’s national heroes: Drake, Mike Myers and Wayne Gretzky.
“I’d say Drake and Wayne Gretzky are neck and neck,” Willson explains. “I think the Raptors thing might give Drake a nod.”
Narration showcases how the tight ends are cut from the same cloth, literally, as they all wear the same hoodies in their positional meetings, and reverse them at the same time.
One of the tight ends in the mix is Darren Waller, who was highlighted in the season’s third episode for his battle with drug addiction.
While in the area, Waller heads to a meeting to mingle with those going through similar struggles as he’s had in his life.
“Big thing about it is community,” Waller said. “If you try to do it by yourself, it’s going to be a lot harder for you. Never been to a meeting I didn’t like.”
Next up, we get a magical montage full of Jon Gruden one-liners, mixed in with some infamous different moments for his “Knock on wood if you’re with me” catchphrase. It turns into a practice highlight reel, with a musical rendition of Gruden’s phrases leading the way from an audio standpoint.
“We have a chance to be one hell of a good story this year,” Gruden said in one of the moments, which also included a different incredible phrase: “Don’t shove sand up the flea’s ass.”
Gruden then asks players at practice if they can count from 100 down to zero, using only multiples of three. After players go against the idea, Gruden shows off his brains and completes it with relative ease.
“That’s all them numbers,” one player says. “That’s that mad genius.”
As the narrator says, however, the only number that matters in the next few weeks is 53, as the roster gets trimmed down to that many people for the regular season.
The episode transitions to another player on the bubble for that main roster: linebacker Jason Cabinda. While the Cameroonian struggles to start off his share of screen time in practice, he quickly bounces back with some vocal leadership and some solid action on the field to showcase his talents in a big way.
After practice, the second-year player delivers the news to his mother that she has tickets for the team’s game against the Packers in Canada, much to her delight.
Another player creating some delight on the West Coast for Raiders fans is rookie wide receiver Keelan Doss, the local hero in California.
Doss is making continued splashes in practice, with Gruden telling him and fellow receiver Hunter Renfrow how he’s been “getting a lot of phone calls” about the two of them during training camp.
>>RELATED: Pick-Six: Top Celebrity Sports Fans
Doss then gets the call to go through his rookie sing-along in front of the team at a meeting, per quarterback Derek Carr’s request, and he doesn’t disappoint with a rendition of “My Girl” by The Temptations.
Star rookie Johnathan Abram is next up to the mic, singing Usher’s “U Got It Bad,” pleasing Gruden and getting the team to sing along in the process.
Fullback Alec Ingold then sings another song by The Temptations, dabbling in some “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” much to the displeasure of Gruden and his teammates.
“Get the f— out of here,” Gruden said.
Trayvon Mullen gets similar treatment as he matches his Clemson brethren Hunter Renfrow’s struggles on the mic, trying to sing “Lean on Me” like a fellow rookie did a few weeks ago.
“You got a hell of a football team at Clemson, but you got the worst entertainers I’ve ever had,” Gruden said.
Fans then get a glimpse at Antonio Brown reading some fan mail during a break from his training, getting a look at some of the love he’s received despite his drama with his feet and his helmet grievances.
“People don’t hate AB, they actually love me,” Brown says as he reads his letters.
A player that won’t be getting as much attention in the next few weeks is rookie Maxx Crosby, who broke a bone in his hand and is stuck in a massive cast. He discusses what led to the injury before calling a former college teammate, Brogan Roback, and the two talk about “meeting each other at the top” in the NFL.
After Gruden puts an exclamation point on the camp’s final practice with some intense moves to break the huddle, the team heads to Canada for their preseason tango with the Packers, as Cabinda meets his mother at the team’s hotel and goes on a tour of Winnipeg.
In the team’s meeting in Canada, Gruden puts the focus on the players on the bubble, saying how he told certain players to stay home who won’t need to be playing as much in the final two games.
He mentions how the Packers game is set up perfectly for the men in the meeting room, before using the definition of the team’s name to motivate his players for battle.
“A raider attacks the enemy in its own territory,” Gruden states.
Unfortunately, that territory turns into an 80-yard field due to Canadian football that had been played in the days prior to the team’s preseason game in Winnipeg.
“Fine with us,” Gruden said. “Let’s just play the game, man.”
After getting an explanation of the rules from the referees, Gruden has a simple message for those worried about playing on a shortened field in a different country.
“We’ll play on a 180 yard field, we’ll play on any shaped field,” Gruden said.
After we get a brief rendition of the Canadian National Anthem from hometown hero Luke Willson, who gets no backup vocals from his teammates on the sidelines, Gruden isn’t in the best mood when a referee warns him about his placement on the sidelines.
“Throw the flag on me, will ya?” Gruden said. “I’ve had enough f—ing grief.”
After a rough start to the action for Willson, Cabinda and quarterback Mike Glennon, Gruden turns to Nathan Peterman to lead the team under center, who in turn looks towards receiver Keelan Doss for some big plays.
The duo connects for some nice gains, whether it’s through pass interference, slants or deep routes, and the Raiders get on the board to go up 10-7 in the second quarter.
The defense can’t match the intensity, however, sending the Raiders into the locker room at halftime with a deficit, and Gruden into the break with some anger.
“I don’t even know what the hell we’re doing,” Gruden said.
After a motivated speech in the locker room, the team bounces back in a big way, specifically on defense. Cabinda, much like he did earlier in practice, goes from a no-show to a vocal and physical leader on his side of the ball. Peterman’s firing on all cylinders, and Doss is grabbing everything thrown his way.
“I like this Doss,” Gruden said before a beautiful toe-tapping grab on the sideline.
“I love Doss,” he says afterwards.
Peterman brings the team within two points with a touchdown to make it 21-19, and then leads a successful two-minute drill to set the team up for a game-winning field goal to win it 22-21 in Canada.
Gruden and Antonio Brown are pleased with what they saw from their team and teammates, even on a shortened field.
“I’m sure the league office will consider cancelling kickoffs, moving the field to a 90-yard field,” Gruden jokes.
Peterman and Doss get some serious praise from Gruden in the locker room after the game, with Peterman breaking the huddle for Week 3 of the preseason. Sounds like a good sign for his placement in the race for the backup quarterback spot behind Derek Carr.
Back in California, Antonio Brown and Jon Gruden go to show their support for those they love in different ways.
Brown decides to take a trip to De La Salle High School for a local football game, hanging out with fans and getting drowned out with massive amounts of cheers from students in attendance.
Meanwhile, Gruden and his wife go to show support for their son, Jayson, who’s pursuing a dream of becoming a professional fighter.
As Brown lives it up and gets swarmed as a star at the school, Gruden gets giddy while watching his son in the cage, even dusting off his backwards counting skills to the tune of his son’s punches during his training.
Just like he does on the field when he coaches Brown, Derek Carr, Nathan Peterman or Keelan Doss, Gruden is supporting his guy, and doing a great job of doing so.
“In fighting and football, some athletes just stand apart,” the narrator says to end the episode. “But, it always helps to have someone in your corner.”
Despite the long wait for the episode to air for some, this week didn’t disappoint for football fans who have been following this season of “Hard Knocks.”
You got the usual Jon Gruden madness that you either love him or hate him for, and you saw a more real side of Antonio Brown that many have never experienced.
The ups and downs of the battle for a roster spot were showcased throughout, with players offensively and defensively struggling at times, with some bouncing back in a big way in prime moments. Meanwhile, other rookies like Keelan Doss continued to show their potential on the big stage, and continue to work themselves off the bubble.
The ending was the perfect way to sum up this Raiders roster, with everyone showing support for what they care about in different ways. Whether it’s for coaches, teammates, friends or family, this Raiders squad is a family, and it’s been fun to watch this season on “Hard Knocks.”