We’re just over two weeks away from the start of the 2020 NFL season, which means we’re inching closer and closer to the end of this year’s edition of “Hard Knocks.”
The 2020 season of HBO’s hit series has dove in deep on the in’s and out’s of the NFL world in an era impacted by COVID-19, even highlighting two different case studies by showcasing both of the NFL’s Los Angeles franchises: the Chargers and Rams.
Episode 3 of “Hard Knocks: Los Angeles” premiered on August 25, just a week after giving viewers a first look at the latest phase in the NFL’s COVID-19 protocols. Helmets went on, contact went up and the stakes were raised for both veterans and rookies on the bubble as they maneuver through a unique training camp.
Whether you were unable to watch or if you’re looking for a refresher on everything that happened, here is a full recap and review of Episode 3 of “Hard Knocks: Los Angeles” with the Chargers and Rams.
Starting off with the theme of the episode, Chargers WR coach Phil McGeoghan preaches to his players about the importance of blocking, explaining the need for business to pick up due to the lack of preseason games.
“We don’t have time, I’m just trying to be honest with you,” McGeoghan said. “I’m not watching this s— past tomorrow. If you block someone, you will play here. If you don’t, you’ll be gone.”
After the “Hard Knocks: Los Angeles” intro, Liev Schreiber narrates over footage of the Chargers’ footballs being prepped for practice, and compares it to training camp by saying it’s all about “knowing just how much to grind, and when to play it smooth.”
Teams are bracing for impact as COVID-19 protocols begin to loosen and contact practices return to the docket. So, Rams head coach Sean McVay uses the opportunity to reminisce about a fight from the first day of voluntary offseason training activities (OTAs), where he wound up jumping on Rams star Aaron Donald in an effort to break things up.
When full-contact practices begin, McVay will likely be waiting for those large fights, given the long wait that players had to endure as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Both Chargers and Rams tell teammates at practice about how stir-crazy they had become, with Rams linebacker Samson Ebukam saying, “no pads suck, bro.”
“It’s going to be fun,” Chargers rookie running back Darius Bradwell said. “Probably the first day, we’ll be gassed. Then, we’ll be straight.”
During a team meeting, Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn warns his players about being safe during those contact-filled practices, telling them to “protect each other.”
“You protect your teammate,” Lynn explained. “No excuses, no complaining. No matter what the situation is, man. No excuses, no complaining.”
Back at Rams practice, personalities shine once more as cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey and Dont’e Deayon celebrate the beginning of practices in shells.
“Lot of flash, lot of grit, lot of personality, lot of sweat,” Deayon said, as a montage plays showcasing both teams’ first days of contact.
During the montage, the message from the Chargers’ WR coach rings true once more, as Lynn tells his players “blocking is attitude.”
“The great ones find a way to run block, do all the little things,” McGeoghan said during a team meeting, comparing blocking on the field to leading the way for a player’s own child. “If you want a job, if you want to impress somebody: block somebody.”
“Your job is on the line.”
Lynn watches film in his office, and is not pleased with the effort from his players.
“It’s terrible, it’s terrible,” Lynn muttered. “You don’t block, you don’t play for me. That’s just what it is.”
Lynn praises the blocking ability of wide receiver Keenan Allen, who gets his first major “Hard Knocks” spotlight of the season. Cameras show off Allen’s blocking prowess, along with his incredible hands that he uses in his day job as a wide receiver.
At the same time, viewers get a sense for Allen’s verbal skills, as well.
“He came out the womb talking s—,” McGeoghan told a player at practice.
Another player who has experience getting in opponents’ heads with verbal jabs is Chris Harris, Jr., the newest member of the Chargers’ secondary and a consistent thorn in Allen’s side in the past.
“Iron sharpens iron,” explained Schreiber, as practice highlights show off the battles Allen and Harris had together on the field in the same uniform.
At home, Harris’ wife jokes about the relationship between her husband and Allen, and explains her excitement for the practice pairing’s potential.
“Now y’all friends?” Leah Harris said. “It’ll be good competition for both of you guys.”
Back at the Rams’ camp, Jared Goff and his significant other get a tour of Los Angeles’ new football venue, SoFi Stadium.
Goff and Rams safety John Johnson III explore the new stadium, with Johnson saying how “fast’ the turf feels. Meanwhile, Goff enjoys the view from midfield as he looks up at the massive video board circling the stadium’s roof.
“I’ll have a good view, I guess,” Goff joked. “I cannot wait to play here.”
The Rams prep for a scrimmage at SoFi that would help christen their new stadium, and would serve as an opportunity for bubble players like seventh-round pick Clay Johnston to make an impression on his coaches.
Fortunately for Johnston, he has good mentors to work with: his father Kent Johnston, a former strength coach for the Green Bay Packers, and NFL legend Brett Favre.
“Papa Favre, what is going down?!” Clay Johnston asks as he, his father and Favre all talk on a Zoom call during a break from Johnston’s practice schedule.
As Kent Johnston tells Favre he looks “like a million dollars,” Favre jokingly replies that he feels “like five dollars,” before turning the attention to the Rams rookie.
“It’s going good, Papa Favre,” Johnston explained. “It’s definitely a change.”
“You’re gonna be fine, I played with a ton of guys, but not many guys like you who love it,” Favre said. “That’s the kind of guys you win with.”
The Chargers are also benefiting from a veteran quarterback, albeit one that’s still on the field and looking for a starting job. Tyrod Taylor is on his third team since the 2017 season began, and hoping to serve as a leader in a young quarterbacks room.
“Can’t say I’ve been through it all,” Taylor said. “But I think I’ve been through a lot.”
“Going to Buffalo, being able to break a 17-year streak,” Taylor continued. “To get traded the next year; a lot of things that happened in Cleveland were out of my control. To ending up out here in LA. I think that everything the last nine years has prepared me for the opportunity I have now.”
Lynn tells a fellow coach at practice that, while Taylor seems like an introvert, “he speaks up when he has to,” which is evident by the quarterback taking over a coach’s laptop during a meeting to go over plays with his teammates.
He also uses his platform to bring attention to the death of Breonna Taylor, showing off his self-awareness and the impact he can still have while on the field with such a low vocal volume.
Another player who is providing veteran leadership and speaking up when he has to is Melvin Ingram III, who is in the midst of “holding in, rather than holding out,” in the words of the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. He won’t take a rep in a helmet as he renegotiates his contract with the team.
“We’ve talked a little bit, and all I have to say is, I’m going to support him,” Chargers star Joey Bosa, who recently signed a big-money deal, told media. “He wants to be out there, but he’s gotta handle business.”
Ingram III also uses his platform to showcase a passion of his own, taking the “Hard Knocks” crews to Vulcanic Studioz to display his musical talents.
“Football has always been in my heart, but I’ve always done music,” Ingram III said. “When I started doing music, it was like I was talking to the mic.”
He explains a new song of his entitled “Me vs. America,” which he uses to voice his opinions about the issues regarding COVID-19 and social justice that have taken the world by storm in recent months.
“The first part of fixing something is identifying,” Ingram III explained.
Rams fans get their first look at another young rookie looking to make the team this summer: safety Juju Hughes. And, luckily for Hughes, it’ll be tough to forget his face, all because of the consistency when it comes to the toothpick in his mouth.
“It’s me, man,” Hughes said. “You see me, you see the toothpick.”
Unfortunately for Hughes, he struggled when it came to signals on defense, and his confusion gets the best of him on the field.
Back at the Chargers’ facility, Ingram III takes the field in pads, and “Hard Knocks” explains the news that the star linebacker had signed an adjusted contract that guarantees his $14 million base salary for the 2020 season.
He proves his worth instantly, taking an interception to the house in a situation where a turnover “ended the game” for the team’s offense in practice.
“That’s why I need that guaranteed-ass money,” Ingram III said. “Guarantee that cash, too.”
In the last bit of Chargers-related footage of the episode, Chris Harris, Jr. reunites with his children in California after their time in Colorado, and his family heads to the beach to enjoy “La La Land” while Bryce Vine’s hit single plays in the background.
Then, the real business begins, as “Hard Knocks” viewers get their first live game situation of the summer, which football fans are dying to see as a result of a canceled preseason schedule. The Rams break in SoFi Stadium with their first of two scrimmages, and the team’s roster gets their first reps in their new digs.
New uniforms, new stadium, a whole new era for the Los Angeles Rams, as a song featuring the words “Welcome to the Future” rings through your speakers at home.
“This is sick, huh?” McVay said. “If nothing else, we look clean.”
The action is then fast and hard-hitting, as Goff gets going on offense, and McVay simultaneously challenges his defense verbally. Meanwhile, Aaron Donald shows out on the defensive line, reaching Goff in the backfield numerous times and stripping rookie running back Cam Akers on another occasion.
“Aaron, good s—,” McVay said. “Goly, this guy makes plays.”
As McVay sends his players in for halftime, Goff tells wide receiver Cooper Kupp that he misses preseason, while McVay asks his team for a “sharp, crisp operation in the second half.”
“Let’s look for good, competitive football,” McVay said.
The team’s developmental talent gets some looks on the field, and Johnston’s energy continues to ooze out onto the field. It pays off for both him and Hughes, as the two combine for a big defensive stop towards the end of the scrimmage to break the ice on their training camp journey.
“Dude, that’s Christmas,” Johnston told a coach.
The week ends as players clear out of the field, still in awe of their new stadium just a few weeks before its debut on Sunday Night Football against the Cowboys.
“Is this place made for prime-time or what?” an announcer asks to end the episode.
If you’re looking for the usual “Hard Knocks” content that you’ve become accustomed to over the last few years, Episodes 3 and 4 of “Hard Knocks: Los Angeles” will likely be the closest thing you’ll get in 2020.
There was very little talk about COVID-19 protocols, and very little to worry about as it relates to the league’s phased approach on the field. Contact was back, helmets and pads were on, and the hits were plentiful throughout.
Fans got the usual contract negotiation talk that usually surrounds at least one player throughout the preseason, albeit with a quick resolution in this case when it came to Melvin Ingram III. They got the usual rookie stories with Johnston and Hughes, albeit with very little to talk about on the Chargers’ end.
And, they got the closest thing possible to a preseason game: a scrimmage at the brand new SoFi Stadium.
Yes, things aren’t the same as everyone is used to, and that’s okay. Yes, there isn’t the same intensity and content that comes with a preseason game, and that’s also okay. It’s all entertaining to watch, and different is a great thing when it comes to the world of television.
The episode seemed to have a good split storyline-wise between the Chargers and Rams, and there was plenty to follow throughout the episode. Sure, the Chargers’ WR coach got more screen time than Justin Herbert, the team’s rookie quarterback, and that’s not ideal if you’re a fan of the powder blue uniforms. But, the season is giving a wide variety of content, and that’s all you can ask for in a time like this.
Episode 3 was an improvement from the rest, and now, business will really pick up as cuts begin to get factored into the programming more and more. With just a few weeks left before the start of the regular season, the episodes will get more and more captivating, and we’ll be back into the football fray before you know it.