After a season premiere full of discussion about the NFL’s COVID-19 protocols, “Hard Knocks: Los Angeles” got into the nitty-gritty with the second installment of their Chargers and Rams-centered summer.
With no preseason games to work with and a phased approach as it relates to training camp, practices will be all that more important throughout the weeks leading up to the 2020 season. As a result. HBO had a unique challenge to work with when it came to picking storylines for this season of the high-profile summer series.
For those that missed out on the second episode of the season, or those who simply want a refresher on all of the happenings from an action-packed hour, here is a full recap and review to get you up to speed.
After last week’s episode started with footage from a Zoom meeting as a sign of the current times, the second episode began with footage from the field at the Rams’ training camp facility, with head coach Sean McVay addressing his players.
“I love the intensity, I love the focus,” McVay said, before telling his players about the presence of too many “self-inflicted wounds” on the team’s practice field. “We’re never going to be one of those teams that beats themselves.”
“This is the group we’re counting on come September 13.”
Back at Chargers camp, head coach Anthony Lynn is getting coached up, rather than giving the instruction. In this case, however, he’s learning how to use a piece of equipment that will be unique to this summer’s practices: a megaphone.
Despite some early struggles while trying to use it, Lynn eventually uses the megaphone to let his players know that Phase 2 of training camp was on the way.
“We will practice against one another in a walkthrough,” Lynn explained. “Tempo will be slide and glide.”
Chargers strength coach John Lott provides a description of the team’s new training schedule, and viewers are treated to a Hard Knocks staple: a training montage.
Timelapses show how similar each day seems to be at both Chargers and Rams practices, with testing, walkthroughs and meetings all starting to blend together.
In their hopes to avoid that happening with Hard Knocks episodes, however, the HBO crews decide to hit the road to highlight what some veterans are able to do at home with the current training camp set-up.
However, fans first get a glimpse into life as a rookie during the COVID-19 pandemic, with players like Chargers nose tackle Breiden Fehoko and Rams linebacker Clay Johnston showing off their posts in their team hotel rooms. Players work out before bed, and even have mini “offices” with their desks for virtual meetings.
“It’s already hard enough to be successful in the NFL,” Rams offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth said. “It’s going to be a real challenge, it’s something these young guys are going to have to be prepared for.”
The perfect example of a player who needed every rep he could get in the preseason to make the final roster? Chargers running back Austin Ekeler, who explained how he was able to push ahead in the team’s fourth and final preseason game in 2017 as an undrafted rookie in his pursuit of a roster spot.
“If we didn’t have four preseason games, we never would’ve saw him,” Lynn told a coach at practice when discussing Ekeler.
“[It’s] not impossible by any means, but it’s going to be difficult,” Ekeler explained as he ponders next steps for the Chargers’ rookie class.
One member of those fresh faces in the Chargers’ locker room is rookie running back Darius Bradwell, who gets guidance from Ekeler in between reps at practice.
“I was in the same shoes,” Ekeler told Bradwell as the latter expressed his appreciation for the veteran’s presence on the field.
For Bradwell, his head coach sees a future, but it all hinges on his commitment to bettering himself in the present, specifically with regards to his weight.
“He has potential. He has a lot of potential,” Lynn said when discussing Bradwell with another coach, all before talking to Bradwell directly about his expectations.
“I’m going to get it out of you.”
Lott, the team’s strength coach, gives his own guidance as he works with Bradwell during a one-on-one session, even mentioning Lynn’s past as a running back.
“[Lynn] sees the possibilities in you,” Lott said. “What you do in the dark shines in the light.”
For the veterans, and even Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey, life is a little bit easier. Despite the lack of a long-term contract, Ramsey spends an off-day hunting for houses in Los Angeles, even having a home personally staged for him with family photos and custom messages on the wall.
As he describes the day he got traded from the Jaguars to the Rams in 2019 as “one of the best days of my life” and a “fresh new start,” Ramsey discusses his hopes for his tenure in a Rams uniform.
“I hope LA will be a forever home for me,” Ramsey said. “It’s kind of like a dream come true.”
Ramsey isn’t lacking in personality, and neither is rookie cornerback Dont’e Deayon, who’s back in the Hard Knocks spotlight after shining in the season’s first episode. He’s laughing it up at practice, guarding receivers, and looking to make a name for himself in the Rams’ cornerback room.
In the linebacker grouping, rookie Clay Johnston returns to the fray after a debut earlier in the episode, motivating teammates and hoping to show that practice makes perfect when it comes to his reps on the field.
“Let’s be loud,” the seventh-round pick said. “I want to make it look freaking perfect.”
Unfortunately, mental lapses seems to be the trend during Johnston’s highlights, and he begins to get frustrated, even yelling “Fudge!” after a few plays.
“What does it take to perfect it and not mess up?” Johnston asks a teammate after practice, who tells him about the importance of reps.
Hard Knocks heads to the “Goff Course,” also known as the home of Rams quarterback Jared Goff, who showcases the need for a different kind of reps while playing golf in his custom “driving range.” As he swings with his girlfriend and roommate, he explains the goals for the Rams heading into the 2020 season.
“I think there’s a lot of unfinished things that we want to do,” Goff said. “We feel good about where we’re at.”
Another man who is undoubtedly looking to improve in 2020 is Rams head coach Sean McVay, who channels his inner Jon Gruden as he begins to sing the “Monday Night Football” theme song during big plays in practice.
At one point, he gets upset, and stops a drill dead in its tracks.
“Let’s call a spade a spade,” McVay yells. “This is good work, though.”
Another Hard Knocks coaching alum gets some shine in episode two, although it’s not someone many would expect when thinking about the Chargers or Rams.
Seth Ryan, in charge of quality control for the Chargers’ offense, tells players to “Be smart” as he warns them about California still being one of the most infected states in the country when it comes to COVID-19.
The 26-year-old Clemson alum seems like a new face to Hard Knocks fans, but flashback footage shows his presence during an important season in the show’s history: the 2010 Jets.
Why would he be on that season? Because of his father, former Jets head coach Rex Ryan.
“I’ll bet you anything he coaches,” Ryan said back in 2010.
Ryan was right, but his son unfortunately had to take a few days off from coaching after a positive test for COVID-19. His desk is sanitized, coaches say how they knew a positive test was eventually “gonna happen,” and Lynn, a coach who had his own run-in with COVID-19, expresses what Ryan must have gone through emotionally.
“He’s in shock, and there’s no cure for this,” Lynn said. “It’s just weird having something that there’s no medicine for.”
While players adjust back to Zoom meetings in some cases due to Ryan’s presumptive exposure, rookie quarterback Justin Herbert shows off his skills and quiet confidence when throwing trash into a can in front of a “Hard Knocks” robocam.
“He’s quiet, usually at that position you’re a big mouth,” Lynn said when talking to a coach about Herbert.
Unfortunately for the Oregon product, Herbert apparently shows his hand too much when under center, with Lynn telling his prospect that he can tell when a running play and passing play would respectively be coming because of Herbert’s voice in the huddle.
“Defenses in this league, they pick up any little thing,” Lynn explained.
As Lynn provides some coaching to Herbert, veterans at both Chargers and Rams practices are mentoring young players across a multitude of positions. Rams defensive end Aaron Donald teaches his teammates new moves, Chargers lineman Bryan Bulaga talks to Herbert about techniques, and Rams offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth is coaching up both linemen and tight ends.
“When you see guys doing those things, communicating amongst one another, that’s what’s special,” McVay told his team when showing off Donald’s mentorship during a film session.
McVay even throws in a back-handed jab at Whitworth during the meeting, discussing how “There’s a reason why Andrew Whitworth is going into his 40th year in the NFL.”
Unfortunately for Whitworth, his season and future were both in doubt as a result of he, his wife, his children, and other family members teting positive for COVID-19.
Whitworth’s past experience is used as a jumping-off point for the latest additions to practices as part of the NFL’s protocols: monitors that force players to practice social distancing at practices. A compilation between both Chargers and Rams practices shows how each team’s players are being careful, both by wearing their tracking bracelets and masks on the field.
Chargers wideout Mike Williams realizes he forgot his monitor before heading out to the field, and asks a teammate if he needs it. A simple response of “$50K,” a reference to a potential fine for not wearing it, sends Williams running while yelling, “I gotta get my tracker.”
Luckily for the Chargers’ quality control coach Seth Ryan, there’s good news as it relates to the league’s COVID-19 protocols: Ryan’s test had turned out to be a false positive, and he was able to rejoin the team at the facility.
“What kind of scam is Seth running here just to get a few days off of work?” Lynn joked.
As Ryan returns, a familiar feeling also comes back at practices as teams head into the latest phase of training camp: Players can now practice in helmets, complete with options for both visors and face shields.
“First day,” Chargers star defensive lineman Joey Bosa said as he walked to the field. “Back to school.”
Back at the Rams facility, rookie linebacker Clay Johnston is hoping his own studying can help make a difference during his reps.
“It’s Christmas in August,” the rookie said. “I don’t want to have any mental errors today.”
To end the episode, fans get a glimpse at some true football for the first time in almost a year on Hard Knocks, as both the Chargers and Rams go through more physical play at practice in their helmets.
“Here’s where I shine,” Bosa said as he got ready for his rep.
HBO throws in some highlights from both practices, as Chargers and Rams receivers put in work against each team’s cornerbacks, and defenses each tally interceptions to get their year going on a good foot.
Even McVay gets in on the action, again channeling Gruden as he sprints on defense as part of a play during practice.
“Man, I’m just so excited,” McVay said. “Man, it’s good to be out here with you guys.”
Those in sports media were quick to note the lower ratings than Hard Knocks is used to when looking at last week’s season premiere, with many attributing the drop in viewership to the extensive coverage on the NFL’s COVID-19 protocols. If that’s truly the case, things should pick back up this week with the season’s second episode.
This installment seems as close to the usual thing as fans could get at this point, complete with on-the-field action, highlights from team meetings, and clips of players’ activities while away from practice. Viewers got to watch Ramsey go house-hunting, and were able to see the Chargers’ secondary all playing cornhole against each other at one player’s home.
HBO crews were able to capture the intensity of a true practice at the end as both rosters played in helmets for the first time all year, and showcased the sense of urgency that rookies feel year in and year out in their pursuit of a spot on an NFL team when September rolls around.
It will be impossible to avoid coverage of COVID-19, and HBO can’t simply ignore it for an entire hour of television in the middle of pandemic. But, the network and NFL Films found a balance to work with in episode two that should work for the rest of the summer, even as we inch closer to the start of the 2020 NFL season.
No, it’s not the same as all of the drama fans became accustomed to with the Raiders last August. But, the 2020 season of Hard Knocks is unique for a whole variety of reasons, and this episode turned into a fun watch as a result.