In midst of a media driven world, every professional sports club is looking to make that next big splash. Whether it be the Lakers or Clippers acquiring the biggest names in NBA free agency, Bryce Harper and Mike Trout singing two of the top three biggest contracts in the history of sports or the Arizona Cardinals drafting a 5’10” quarterback with the first pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, everyone loves to see a big splash.
The Oakland Raiders are no exception. After rehiring a Super Bowl winning coach and former football analyst for ESPN in Jon Gruden to a 10-year, $100 million contract in 2018, it felt like the Raiders were back on the map.
Not necessarily on the map of contending for a Super Bowl, but back on the map of discussion. Joining him as the new general manager of the Raiders is Mike Mayock who was hired at the end of 2018. Mayock, a twenty-year veteran of the media world covering football, has never had a front office job in the NFL and many see this as a risky move. It could be a good fit though for the Raiders because he’s been an NFL Draft analyst for years and even hosted a show titled Path to the Draft on NFL Network.
“For the last 15 years, I think I’ve tried to be the GM for all 32 teams. And because of that, from a scheme perspective, I think I’m sound. I think I’ve been used to evaluating all kinds of different players at all kinds of positions for every team in the league,” Mayock said.
The pairing of Gruden and Mayock as head honchos is a splash in of itself, not to mention their three first-round selections of Clelin Ferrel (Clemson), Josh Jacobs (Alabama) and Jonathan Abram (Mississippi State) in this year’s draft.
It will be curious to observe how Oakland gels during training camp because they’re the team featured this summer on the critically-acclaimed HBO series, Hard Knocks.
Originally aired in 2001, the show has followed some of the NFL’s biggest stories through the years. In 2016, it documented the Rams move from St. Louis to Los Angeles under coach Jeff Fisher and first overall pick Jared Goff. It eventually ended with Fisher being let go and the team finishing, 4-12 .
In 2012, the Miami Dolphins were featured and Hard Knocks followed both rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill and Chad Johnson, the longtime receiver who was eventually released. Last year, it was the Browns first-overall pick Baker Mayfield and all-pro receiver Josh Gordon.
In looking toward the Raiders training camp, the cast of Gruden, Mayock and their three first-round picks will get much attention, but not all HBO’s camera time.
Talk about a splash, the Raiders took a head-first dive, signing free-agents Antonio Brown, Vontaze Burfict, Richie Incognito and Trent Brown. Brown is widely regarded as one of the best receivers in football and linebacker Burfict, is considered one of the dirtiest players in the NFL. They’ve had a rocky past, given the fact that Burfict concussed Brown in a 2016 playoff game. Many say the hit was an intentional target.
Richie Incognito has also had his troubles in the past with other players; in the locker room. Known as a bully by many, it will be interesting to see how Incognito meshes with Trent Brown, now the highest paid tackle in football, and the Raiders 2018 first-round pick Kolton Miller who struggled last year.
Now entering its fifteenth season, Hard Knocks is expected to shoot a staggering 1,750 hours of film over a consecutive 43-day period in Napa Valley, CA. Known to demonstrate players’ skills, Hard Knocks also brilliantly profiles the drama of those who hope to make the 53-man roster.
From a viewer’s perspective, watching Hard Knocks is a fan’s dream. It examines the personality underneath the uniform, how do players interact with teammates, coaches and front office executives? How do they handle a major setback when they are informed that their services are no longer needed?
Hard Knocks shows a side of the NFL otherwise impossible to see. Uncomfortable for owners, coaches and players, the visibility might very well motivate the focused team to overachieve.
In 2013, NFL owners passed a rule making teams who’ve made the playoffs in one of the previous two seasons ineligible for Hard Knocks. In addition, a team with a first-year coach cannot be considered or teams that have been on the show in the previous ten years. Any brave organization willing to open its doors to the 18-time Sports Emmy Award winning show has the option to volunteer if it so desires. But volunteers aren’t easy to find and the league has to twist arms to get clubs to commit.
The Raiders expressed vocally that it didn’t want to partake. Owner Mark Davis said the visibility and the ongoing commotion are disruptive.
In the show’s history though, only five teams failed to improve on their win totals from the previous season and two teams have equaled the record they had that previous year, (see records below). After the Raiders were selected for Hard Knocks, Davis released a statement saying, “Everybody wants to be a Raider. Now they’ll find out what it takes to become one.”
Fans will likely see inspiring stories about rookies who come from rural towns or small schools and have made the journey all the way to an NFL practice field, or the veterans who are looking to score another contract and maintain their NFL careers.
With episodes featuring pre-season games, viewers will see how players perform when getting the opportunity to showcase their talent in a real dress rehearsal. Any big play in a pre-season game has the power to help or hurt someone’s chances of attaining a roster spot. The series builds viewer curiosity through the final episode when the staff cuts the roster down from 90 to 53.
The cast is set, the lights are ready, and the cameras will be rolling. This version of Hard Knocks is looking to be one for the ages as Gruden leads his star-studded team into training camp in what he hopes will be a turnaround season, the Raiders last in Oakland.
The premiere is tomorrow, Tuesday, August 6th at 10pm eastern and episodes continue each successive Tuesday through the finale on September 3rd.
Then the Oakland Raiders will play for real and look to make a big splash of their own.
HARD KNOCKS TALE OF THE TAPE
- No. of NFL FILMS production staff assigned to HARD KNOCKS – 120
- No. of crew living with the team at training camp in Napa Valley, CA– 32
- No. of cameras assigned to shoot training camp – 20 (6 manned cameras; 14 robotic stationary cameras)
- No. of hours expected to shoot – 1,750 hours (350 per episode)
- No. of consecutive days crew will work on the series – 43 (July 22 to Sept. 2)
Teams’ record after their appearance on HBO’s Hard Knocks
2018 Cleveland Browns 7-8-1
2017 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 5-11-0
2016 Los Angeles Rams 4-12-0
2015 Houston Texans 9-7-0
2014 Atlanta Falcons 6-10-0
2013 Cincinnati Bengals 11-5-0
2012 Miami Dolphins 7-9-0
2010 New York Jets 11-5-0
2009 Cincinnati Bengals 10-6-0
2008 Dallas Cowboys 9-7-0
2007 Kansas City Chiefs 4-12-0
2002 Dallas Cowboys 5 -11-0
2001 Baltimore Ravens 10-6-0