The 2019 Hard Knocks series will always trigger memories of an unstable Antonio Brown.
But this was not the way the script was likely to end. The enigma evolved into a pariah. He took his baggage and bolted for the other coast and the Patriots.
Viewers of HBO’s Hard Knocks watched assiduously each week to learn among other things, how the great wide receiver was faring and assimilating. Drama, tons. In most of America, Brown is now an anathema.
In the first episode, Brown arrived at training camp on a hot air balloon and was met with immediate attention for an assortment of issues including physical ailments and for insisting on using a helmet not sanctioned by the NFL.
After the series’ last segment and on the eve of the season, he became Bill Belichick’s headache. Exacerbating the issues now are rape allegations against Brown which just surfaced the last couple days.
Instead of Hard Knocks following the progress of the team as a whole, the series in retrospect felt like a publicity platform for the ex-Steeler and for an occasional comedy act starring Oakland coach, Jon Gruden. Not to take away from Gruden’s love for football or the team’s progress during training camp, it never felt like the series addressed enough football.
- Jonathan Abrams, the rookie first-round safety from Mississippi St, is not only an exceptional athlete he is also a character on the field. Abrams made his love for contact known, thudding up players who eventually would meet the grass in pre-padded drills. He should be an exciting player to watch in the coming years.
- Fourth overall pick, Clelin Ferrel, got some decent camera time and was able to showcase some of his natural talent when the Rams had joint practices with the Raiders during training camp. The Clemson product had a big sack in the 4th quarter in the Monday opener against Denver.
- Starting quarterback, Derek Carr, had his family on the screen and called rookies out to sing in front of the team.
- The Rookie first round pick from Alabama, Josh Jacobs, was seen on camera once, where his hood was pulled down over his face the whole time. He tweeted out on August 13th, “If you wondering why I’m not on Hard Knocks it’s because I be hiding from them.”
- “Knock on wood if you’re with me” was the line most said used by Gruden as in, “Hey man” “C’mon Man” or “You now what man.” Arguably the perfect coach to have on a Hard Knocks series, Gruden’s extreme love for the game and his comedic takes were not few and far in-between. He was seen taking part in practice drills, ripping on certain players for not doing their jobs or just referencing the most random of topics when trying to get a point across. Gruden was in most cases the face of the series as he is the face of the franchise. The second year Oakland coach is now hoping to improve after a 4-12 record last season.
- Richie Incognito was one of Oakland’s off-season signings. He has has a history of not playing nicely with teammates. Incognito was somewhat prominent on the series and came off as a pretty funny guy.
- Linebacker Vontaze Burfict was not shown a single time throughout the show.
- General Manager Mike Mayock did not get as much camera time as I thought he would, other than when addressing the press on the key topic, Antonio Brown.
- In terms of the players who we got to know well watching the series, Keelan Doss was an undrafted rookie free agent who went to UC Davis. A Northern California native, he put on big performances in practice and in preseason games. I thought he was a lock for the 53-man roster but ended up being cut at the end of the show. He is now part of the Jacksonville Jaguars practice squad.
- Jason Cabinda was another player whom we got to know. The linebacker flew his mom out for one of the preseason games and the mother-son relationship was profiled in an episode. He looked pretty good during training camp and made some plays here and there. Hard Knocks gave him visibility but he ended up being cut. Cabinda is now on the Detroit Lions practice squad.
- The Canadian native, Luke Wilson, fought to make a roster spot and was focused on Hard Knocks when the Raiders played one of their preseason games in Canada. The former Seahawk was ecstatic to play in his home country and performed pretty well at the tight end position but was battling against Darren Waller and others to make the squad. Waller, who was named the starting TE, had struggled with substance abuse earlier in his career but cleaned up his act. Footage showed Waller from a Ravens training camp some years back where he was not acting coherently on the field. The documentation of him battling his way back to the NFL, and getting a starting position was inspiring.
- The series ended with Raiders owner, Mark Davis, talking about the plans for the team’s move to Las Vegas in 2020.
As far as the rest of the NFL is concerned, Week #1 of the 2019 season was full of surprises. The Antonio Brown signing with the Patriots, just hours after his release from the Raiders, was fodder for the Sunday Night Football announcers. Chris Collinsworth and Al Michaels couldn’t help but quip about how the defending champions got arguably the best receiver in football.
- “When Antonio Brown was going to be released or traded by Pittsburgh, his chosen destination – or one of them – was New England. His camp reached out to the Patriots, but there was no way the Steelers were going to trade him to New England. So, here he is, in his chosen destination you might say by way of a “connecting flight,” Michaels said.
- Another big story of the weekend was Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens putting a beating on the Miami Dolphins. NFL Insider Mike Florio joined NBC’s Football Night in America and referenced the dysfunction within the Fins organization. “Multiple players got their agents on the phone after today’s loss and said, ‘Get us out of here. We want to be traded.’”
- On Kyler Murray’s second half performance against the Lions, Ton Dungy weighed in. “This is what I love. He struggled in the first half. We’re all sitting there saying, ‘Oh, well, this is not college. Don’t worry about the Heisman Trophy.’ But he hung in and he got them going in the fourth quarter,” Dungy said.