The time has finally come: “Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Oakland Raiders” is officially over.
This season has seen a lot of ups and downs, between the relentless repetition of Jon Gruden’s favorite phrase and the incredible impressions from Frank Caliendo, all the way down to the drama involving Antonio Brown’s feet and helmet, and the long list of cuts made in the week leading up to the season finale.
While you may be upset about the end of “Hard Knocks,” there are a few key things to remember. The first? don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened. The second? The show may be over, but it means the regular season is just days away, and that’s what really matters.
As always, if you missed the last episode of “Hard Knocks,” here’s a full recap and review of the season finale to get you up to speed.
The final episode of “Hard Knocks” with the Raiders opens with Andrew Luck announcing his retirement from the league, with Jon Gruden looking on during the former Colts quarterback’s press conference.
Defensive line coach Brentson Buckner talks about the mental and physical toll the game of football has on the league’s players, and talks about the difficulty that comes with realizing your career has reached its final destination.
“Everybody’s football career has an expiration date,” Buckner said. “There’s 100% rate. Football has a 100% retirement rate.”
Another coach makes a valid point, however, mentioning one quarterback that is winning his battle against time: Tom Brady.
After the intro wraps up, Gruden packs up his car with boxes at 4:48 a.m., carpooling with defensive coordinator Paul Guenther to save gas and avoid the peak commute hours together.
Gruden talks about his desire when he was in media to have Guenther on his staff if he ever returned to coaching, and mentions how he may not have his defensive coordinator long if his career trajectory continues like Gruden initially noticed.
“He’ll be a head coach soon,” Gruden said. “I’ll have a hard time keeping him.”
We finally get an origin for Gruden’s unique ability to count backwards in threes, as the Raiders head coach references a concussion test one of his former quarterbacks had to go through with a doctor, and how insane he thought it was that part of the test was to count backwards in threes. And thus, the legend of Gruden’s talent show was born.
“Especially when I’m pissed off, helps me keep control,” Gruden said.
After Gruden jams out to some Metallica, we transition to the practice field for loads of Antonio Brown content to get an entire episode’s worth of highlights involving the wide receiver.
But first, Raiders fans get a double dose of Brown’s, as offensive lineman Trent Brown gives a helping hand as Antonio Brown struggles to get his pads on before practice. As AB deals with another equipment issue during training camp, one question reigns supreme: What can Brown do for you?
In practice, the answer to that question is endless. The cameras show off Brown’s incredible speed and hands as he flies around the field and makes highlight reel-worthy catches, much to the delight of Gruden and quarterback Derek Carr.
The action transitions into a more calm setting, with Brown getting treatment in the form of cupping and a massage at his home. The calmness doesn’t continue for long, however, as the Raiders wideout is interrupted by his children, with one of them walking off with his beanie. Fortunately, Brown has some new headwear to rock this season, despite his teammates making fun of him for it.
“That boy like a power ranger,” Keon Hatcher said about Brown’s new helmet.
“It look like a mini fridge,” Reggie Nelson added.
Speaking of a mini version of William “The Refrigerator” Perry, fans are blessed with some amazing Jon Gruden practice footage, as he turns into a defensive lineman to chase his quarterbacks out of the pocket to force them into uncomfortable throws.
“Here comes Von Miller,” Gruden yelled at Derek Carr during one drill.
Gruden jokingly makes fun of Nathan Peterman as he chases him down, and continues to put in some work before the cameras transition to some more Gruden gold in the meeting room.
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Gruden showcases some of the talent he’s evaluated from around the league, starting with a former Steelers offensive star. No, not that one.
The Raiders coach highlights running back LeVeon Bell’s blocking ability in the backfield, showing off some puns in the meantime.
““He will ring your what?” Gruden said, as his team responds with “Bell.”
“Boof!” he screamed as he watched a big block.
Next up is former Patriots, Chargers and Jets running back Danny Woodhead, with Gruden running a trivia night as he asks his players where Woodhead went to school (Hint: the answer is Chadron State).
Last but not least, Gruden takes a look at Olivier Vernon, and describes his toughness in a unique way.
“You know what he eats for breakfast?” Gruden asked. “He eats glass and nails.”
Speaking of talented linebackers, the cameras move on to Brandon Marshall, who’s been recovering from an injury for most of camp. As he talks about how Peyton Manning helped him get off the Broncos practice squad, the HBO crew talks about his rough road with the Raiders since he joined the team in March, with a bad knee foiling his camp.
Meanwhile, guys like Johnathan Abram, Maxx Crosby and Darren Waller enjoy life on the field as they make the team, even with Crosby’s “Clubber Lang” club on his hand.
Other players aren’t so lucky, as Gruden runs down the list of players on the bubble:
-Nathan Peterman: “Got better and better,” Gruden said. “Making good decisions. Proud of the step he’s made in his career, especially here with us.”
-Keelan Doss: “Doss has been impressive, you throw the ball to him, he catches it,” Gruden said. “He’s shown a lot of guts.”
-Luke Willson: “Tight end is the life blood of our whole offense,” Gruden said. “Right now, Luke’s going to be in a battle. We’re going to have to figure that out, it’s going to be a tough sort for us.”
-Jason Cabinda: “Much better linebacker in year 2, he’s in a battle,” Gruden said.
“We’ve got some tough cuts, it’s going to be really tough,” Gruden said. “Receiver’s going to be tough. QB’s going to be tough.”
“A lot of guys want to be in the silver and black.”
The team then heads to Seattle to take on the Seahawks in their preseason finale, with another homecoming for Willson against his former squad. Meanwhile, Gruden enjoys the beautiful, rainy weather that the city has to offer.
“Great weather here in Seattle,” Gruden joked. “I love this place.”
Willson makes some solid blocks and a quick grab to get started in the game, with the focus sticking on him for the first piece of the action.
Next up, Mike Glennon gets some looks, leading the team into field goal range before a roughing the kicker penalty gives the Raiders a first down. Or, so they thought.
“He signaled a first down, then changed his mind,” Gruden said. “Which is typical of this whole god damn country.”
The defense struggles as the cameras shift to Jason Cabinda, whose vocal leadership continues. The Seahawks go down 14-3, with the offense looking to bounce back to keep the team in the game.
Nathan Peterman enters the fray, leading the team into field goal range before halftime to make it a 14-6 game.
In the second half, we get some looks at the hometown hero, Keelan Doss. While Doss has shined through camp, he drops a few passes through his hand when given the chance to prove his worth in the preseason finale, continuing a trend that’s followed him at times throughout camp.
“Come on Doss, come on!” Gruden said. “Catch a f—ing ball.”
Continuing his team-friendly coaching style, Gruden tells Doss he’ll be looking for him again, and the California native doesn’t disappoint. With a few big gains and nice grabs, he’s right back in the fray as his connection with Peterman from this entire preseason continues.
Unfortunately, Peterman gets rocked with a big hit that forces a fumble, injuring his elbow in the process. While he stays in the game, the pain ends up costing him later on in the episode.
With the team down 17-9 late in the fourth quarter, Peterman and Doss help to orchestrate a key drive to lead the Raiders back into the red zone, with a rushing touchdown making it a 17-15 game. However, Peterman takes a sack on the two-point conversion attempt, giving the team their first loss of the preseason.
After the game, Gruden highlights some of the tough decisions that will be made over the coming days, but embraces the family environment that his team has created over the summer.
“I’m emotional right now because I love this family and I appreciate you,” Gruden said. “Everybody knows your name now, hell of a job.”
Unfortunately, those names get cut off the roster at a fast and furious pace. Luke Willson and Brandon Marshall are among the first names to go, as tight ends coach Frank Smith and defensive line coach Brentson Buckner talk about the harsh realities of the game.
“First time it happens to you, especially when you’re a vet, it stings,” Smith said.
In a break from the seriousness, fans catch a glimpse at the rookie bromance of Johnathan Abram and Clelin Ferrell, as they go fishing. Abram rocks a “Is it salmon or sal-mon?” shirt, providing some brief comedy as they wonder what’s ahead for those who get axed.
“If we get cut, whatchu do next?” Abram asked.
“I hope I never have to find out,” Ferrell said.
The next few moves come quickly: Peterman heads to the injured reserve, and Keelan Doss and Jason Cabinda get the news that they’ve been cut. Doss lands with the Jaguars practice squad, as Cabinda heads out to Detroit to join the Lions.
“Ready to get down there and get to work,” Doss said. “Nothing but respect for Coach Gruden and the rest of the coaching staff as well. Once a Raider, always a Raider.”
Mark Davis get some screen time as he talks about his father’s legacy, with the team’s future highlighted before their big move to Las Vegas. However, the future is now, according to Jon Gruden.
Gruden goes through his first team meeting after the cuts, congratulating the men in the room on making the roster.
“We’re a very young football team, we have an assembled an interesting group of guys who love football,” Gruden said. “We are bringing the Raiders back, I wanna have a lot of fun, I want to get after people’s ass.”
“Knock on wood.”
The final clip of the episode before the bloopers run shows Antonio Brown training in his pool, with a big theme from the season as a whole wrapping up the Raiders’ “Hard Knocks finale before his debut season with the team.
While the season finale didn’t dive as much into the cuts as other seasons of the show have, such as the Rams’ season with Jeff Fisher’s conversations with his players, this season finale still had a lot to offer.
We got a lot of Antonio Brown footage to showcase how he’s progressed since his drama unfolded, and we got some incredible Jon Gruden clips, both on and off the field.
Fans got to see the ups and downs of the players battling for spots on the roster, between Darren Waller landing as a starter, hometown hero Keelan Doss not making it on the squad, and everything in between. It was a rollercoaster of an episode, and NFL Films and the HBO crew kept the action moving.
Focusing on the future was a great way to end the episode and the season, with a young core heading into the team’s final season as the Oakland Raiders before their move to Las Vegas. The silver and black will remain, and seeing Gruden and Mark Davis talk about the team’s new legacy was a great ending to an amazing season of “Hard Knocks.”