“Hard Knocks” season is back, baby.
We’re at the point of the summer where most people are getting a little desperate to watch and analyze sports that aren’t baseball. Luckily, we’re almost out of the woods in that regard, as the English Premiere League kicks off this weekend, college football is right around the corner and NFL training camps are underway.
And when NFL preseason action rolls around, you know HBO’s “Hard Knocks” isn’t far behind. This year’s season of the behind-the-scenes documentary series premiered on Tuesday night, giving us our first all-access look at Oakland Raiders training camp.
It was fairly easy to be hyped — or intrigued, at the very least — about the selection of the Raiders as this team in the spotlight of this year’s installment. They have one of the league’s most entertaining coaches in Jon Gruden. They have one of the league’s most enigmatic owners in Mark Davis. They made one of the league’s biggest offseason splashes in trading for Antonio Brown. They signed Richie Incognito and Vontaze Burfict — two of the NFL’s most controversial players — over the offseason. They’re in the midst of an awkward delayed relocation.
The Raiders are a team that doesn’t exactly shy away from dysfunction, and that’s good news because dysfunction makes for good TV. But often the true beauty of the show is its ability to find stories and interesting characters in the unexpected and relatively unknown.
As we did last year with the show as it centered around the Cleveland Browns (one of the best seasons ever, if you ask me) we’ll be ranking each week’s top characters and storylines in a nice little ‘Hard Knocks’ Power Rankings list.
Shall we dance?
8. Derek Carr
It became pretty apparent from the early going that Derek Carr is probably going to be a weakness of the show this year. It’s not that the Raiders quarterback is a bad guy or an uninteresting story, it’s just that most of his scenes are … weird? Awkward? Forced? All of the above?
Some guys do a better job of blocking out the invasion of cameras than others, and it seemed like Carr was always aware that he was being filmed. Worse than that, it felt like he was mucking it up for the cameras and trying to maximize his entertainment value for a lot of the episode. Nothing about him felt natural, including the shine on his arms.
It probably doesn’t help that we’re going from Baker Mayfield, who is pretty much an electrifying entertainment machine, to Carr, who … isn’t that. If Mayfield is a star, then Carr is a street impersonator who makes you stop for a second before realizing you just want to slide past him and get on with your day.
Maybe Carr will adjust to the extra spotlight and settle in as this season goes along, or perhaps his personality is just a bit more awkward and we’ll have to get used to that.
7. Ronald Ollie
The undrafted rookie free agent and former “Last Chance U” star made it through camp long enough for HBO to show him rolling around on the field, but then was immediately cut for skipping medical meetings and generally not caring much about anything.
Tough break for Rollie Pollie Ollie, but at least he delivered this tremendous quote that will surely become inspirational bulletin board material for stoners everywhere.
6. Deakon Carr
Meet Derek Carr’s absolute unit of a baby. He’s two months old and he rules. Sign him up!
5. Antonio Brown
After coming over to the Raiders following a highly dramatic divorce with the Pittsburgh Steelers this offseason, AB figures to be a significant part of “Hard Knocks” this year. Whether you love him or you hate him, he’s got one of the NFL’s biggest and most unpredictable personas. That being said, he didn’t exactly steal the show in Episode 1 even if he had some noteworthy moments.
One of those noteworthy moments featured him having to explain to his kids that Ben Roethlisberger is no longer his quarterback. I just wish they had asked him why …
Another moment was Brown showing up to Raiders camp via a hot air balloon. During that ride, he delivered a line that he has undoubtedly been practicing in the mirror all summer long.
Of course, a big reason why AB wasn’t more of a player in the premiere was because he didn’t really play. That’s because he was dealing with a foot injury that limited his participation — a foot injury that we’ve since learned A) is pretty gruesome, and B) was maybe caused improper use of a cryotherapy machine.
This week, Brown shared photos that showed off his gross, mangled feet. It looked like they were blistering and peeling, but a report from ProFootballTalk suggests that Brown actually suffered frostbite on his feet after entering a cryotherapy chamber without proper footwear.
Specifics of the foot injury weren’t really addressed on this week’s episode, but we can hope that these recent developments make their way into next week’s episode because, boy, I would sure love to hear about how the hell that happened.
In any case, it feels safe to assume we’re going to get better content from Brown as camp season plays out.
4. Bad hair
We knew this coming in but the Raiders have some truly terrible haircuts on their team. For example, Jon Gruden’s wispy midde-part mop.
Whatever AB has going on here.
Derek Carr’s grade school wiffle. (Somebody get my man a fade or something … damn.)
And of course…
We may need to check in with the worst hair every week.
3. “Old Town Road”
Because we now live in a hellscape where it’s impossible to do anything without hearing “Old Town Road” at least once every 30 minutes, it should come as no surprise that the song made its way into the premiere episode when two of the Raiders rookies — first round picks Clelin Ferrell and Johnathan Abram — went horseback riding.
And it wasn’t just a background song, either. The guys were legitimately singing the lyrics while riding their horsies and made sure to tell the HBO production crew to insert it in post. (They did.)
That’s fine, though, because the horseback riding scene gave us a look at a budding bromance between Ferrell and Abram and it was outstanding.
They also sang the intro from “The Wayans Brothers” and I didn’t realize how much I needed that.
2. Johnathan Abram
Much like Carr, Abram seemed to be hyper aware that he had a camera on him at all times during the premiere. The difference between the two is that Abram actually brought some entertainment value, even if it was somewhat exhausting to listen to him at points.
You can certainly argue that he comes off as a tryhard at several points in episode one, but it’s hard to argue against him being one of the most entertaining personalities so far. Maybe that says more about the episode than it does about him.
Two things about him became quite clear: He loves to talk and he loves to hit. The latter landed him in a bit of trouble when he got too physical during a non-contact practice in the opening week of camp.
He tried to talk his way out of things when Gruden pulled him aside, telling the coach “you can’t cut me,” which is one hell of a way to announce your arrival as a rookie. Surely nothing can go wrong with that sort of attitude. Very excited to see where this goes!
Abrams also brought some heat to the episode when he needed a crash course in pronouncing “salmon” (salmon or sal-mon?) at a team dinner, much to the dismay of Carr. It was captivating television, honestly.
1. Guy Fieri
Obviously. Relocate the Raiders to Flavortown.