HBO’s Hard Knocks: Full breakdown of episode 1

The start of Hard Knocks is a huge benchmark for football fans, as it rings in a fresh new season. The exclusive, all access footage of the grind that is preseason training camp provides great drama and entertainment on a yearly basis. 

2019 is no different, as the Oakland Raiders are coming off a difficult 4-12 season. They’re a team filled with turmoil up and down the entire roster. The circus show was on full display in the HBO hits premiere episode.

Chucky is into nightmares, not dreams

Jon Gruden is the undisputed star of this year’s series. Chucky is roaming the sidelines once again as head coach of the Raiders after he spent the past nine years as a commentator on ESPN’s Monday Night Football. 

Gruden is no stranger to a lot of cameras and attention with all of the coaching and announcing experience he has under him. The show appropriately opened with him addressing his team, explaining how everyone has a dream of making the NFL and accomplishing great things once they get there. After that he basically said ‘f’ dreams, you’ve got to take dreams away from people and create nightmares as everyone competes to make the final 52 man roster.

Is Gruden the right man to turn the Raiders around? Was he worth the long term security that he got with his 10 year, 100 million dollar contract a year ago? Maybe not. But in episode one he came off well and brings an energy that rubs off well on a pro football team. I wanted more camera time for Gruden honestly. He’s always got a good sound bite on deck. I’m intrigued to see how his attitude progresses as training camp wanes.

Where’s Roethlisberger?!

Apparently new Raiders receiver Antonio Brown forgot to mention to his kids that “Big Ben” Roethlisberger was in fact not included in the trade to Oakland with him. One of Brown’s sons asked him “where’s Roethlisberger?” as they watched training camp. Brown was sitting out as he’s nursing his feet, which got frostbite after walking into a cryogenic chamber bare footed. Quite foolish.

“AB” knelt by his son and told him ‘He play for the Steelers, we don’t play with him no more. We play with Derek Carr. Derek my quarterback now.’ Wouldn’t it have been great if Brown’s little boys were old enough to respond “Ooof, what a downgrade daddy!”? Carr is so off AB’s kids radar they responded “Derek Carter?”

Brown is an elite wide out whose established himself as a superstar in this league at age 30. Having said that, he did reap the benefits of having a well oiled offensive machine with the Steelers. In Oakland, it’s going to be a far greater challenge for AB to put up monster numbers on a consistent basis.

Derek Cornball Carr

I’m sorry, Derek Carr seems like a nice guy. I was a big fan of his in college at Fresno State and he’s definitely got talent. But this dude is so unfit to lead an NFL franchise at the quarterback position. I get that you’d rather have your franchise quarterback to be the corny, “uncool” guy who just does his thing and stays away from unnecessary headlines off the field. 

Tom Brady and Russell Wilson fall under this category. They’ve got the attitude in front of the team and media that has a positive ripple effect on the rest of the team. Carr, though not close to as good as either of those two, shares similar personality traits.

So even though it’s better for the Raiders that Carr isn’t a fire starter, it’s so hard to take him seriously at all. It seems like he’s trying too hard to win everyone over, after he had his worst statistical year of his career in his fifth NFL season a year ago.

It’s clear Gruden isn’t sold on him, and may consider a quarterback switch sometime within the next couple of years if Carr doesn’t reemerge this year. He’s capable, as he was a borderline MVP candidate in 2016 before an ankle injury ended his year at the very end of the regular season. But moving forward, he just doesn’t seem like that guy at all.

Last Chance U star has a big flop

Defensive lineman Ronald Ollie made a name for himself in East Mississippi on the popular Netflix docuseries “Last Chance U”, which profiles the best football has to offer at the Community College level.

Ollie deservedly got the scissors and let go by Jon Gruden early on in the episode. After some soreness in his achilles, team doctors scheduled meetings for him that Ollie simply blew off. Gruden said “If he can’t listen to the trainers who’s he going to listen to” as he announced Ethan Westbrooks would take his roster spot. This is extremely disappointing, as Ollie became a fan favorite on Last Chance U. In turn, credit to the Hard Knocks crew building him up to be a prominent “character” in this show right before his surprising early absence.

Controversial Linebacker gets hardly any airtime

There’s plenty of controversial members of the 2019 Oakland Raiders, making them tailor made for this program. One of them is former Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict. He has an infamously long record that’s earned him the label of one of the dirtiest players in the league. 

I was looking forward to hearing a head turning soundbite or standout play during scrimmages. But Burfict was only seen on camera once during the episode and didn’t say anything. But don’t worry, Hard Knocks is just saving him up for some big Burfict moments to come in future episodes.

The Incognito enigma

Sticking with the controversy theme, look no further than first year Raider and guard Richie Incognito. The former Miami Dolphin became a household name for all of the wrong reasons back in 2014. Reports surfaced that he verbally abused his rookie teammate and former offensive tackle Jonathan Martin.

Incognito and a couple other Miami players would harass Martin, regularly saying “you’re my bitch” among other awful, demeaning remarks. 

Recently, Incognito found himself in the headlines for more concerning behavior. Last August Incognito came to the funeral home responsible for burying his father and demanded they gave him access to his deceased father’s body. Why? So that he could cut off his head of course. Incognito is so messed up I genuinely don’t know and don’t want to know if he wanted to do this out of honor or disrespect for his late father.

Incognito threatened to shoot the funeral home workers if they didn’t let him have his father’s body. The funeral workers promptly called the police and according to their report, he had guns in his truck. This dude is just a fresh walk through a spring meadow, huh?

Somehow, despite all his past controversy on top of this incident he only received a two game suspension from the league for the misdemeanor. And, Oakland signed him two months after the incident. He was out of the league in 2018.

On the show he does the best job he can of trying to come off as a great, team-friendly guy. They also show a clip where he’s telling the media the Raiders are getting “the best version of myself right now.” Yeah, we’ll see about all that. More of the “Incognito shit-show” is certainly coming in future episodes.

Rookie talking like he’s Ed Reed 2.0

There’s always one young player on Hard Knocks every year that has a big mouth, but not much in terms of production on the field just yet. Rookie safety and first round selection of the 2019 draft Johnathan Abram is a former first team all defensive selection at Mississippi State. The guy can definitely ball.

But in the premiere of Hard Knocks he showed everyone his head may not be in the right place at the moment . While Gruden reprimanded him for hitting a receiver during a no pads scrimmage where it’s meant to be non contact, Abram talked back to his coach defending his case for laying out the receiver. 

Gruden jokingly made a comment about his fate with the team with that kind of behavior and Abram quickly responded “You can’t cut me!”. Boy, he’s lucky they need any defensive help they can get, or his ass would’ve been cut right then and there. 

He’s got the right mentality for a safety in the NFL as he’s a fearless, aggressive competitor. But it sets a bad precedent when a rookie is acting that entitled this early in his career. It certainly represents one of the many challenges Gruden and the Raiders have in trying to bring this franchise back to relevancy.

-Simon Brady


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