Ever since the Oakland Raiders were controversially selected to host HBO’s docuseries, Hard Knocks, the anticipation has been building.
Tonight, the first episode aired, and in a way, the season has started for Raider Nation. Every week, we’ll watch along with the rest of the Nation and make notes of our favorite parts, interesting observations, and a brief description of everything that took place.
Hard Knocks Life: Episode One Review
On the first episode of Hard Knocks, we’re introduced to the Raiders and their training camp at Napa. The first scene shows Jon Gruden’s nightmare speech that HBO shared as part of their promo a little earlier, and we go down the line, introducing all the major players. We meet Antonio Brown, who is struggling with foot pains as a part of practice before training camp. Then we head over to Derek Carr’s house to meet him, his wife, and his three sons. Next up, as I predicted, is rookie safety, Johnathan Abram as the players and coaches assemble.
Gruden addressed the players, insisting that there wouldn’t be rookie hazing and that all he asked was everyone show up and be in shape. The biggest story of the preseason so far is addressed again, with Antonio Brown being sidelined with his injured feet. This is something that everyone, Raider Nation or not, was excited for. His son asked him some very convenient questions, like “Where’s Roethlisberger,” which you knew the cameramen were stoked about.
Practice, We Talkin’ About Practice
Then the camera cuts to Derek slinging the ball all over the place. On a hypothetical third and three. Gruden dials up a bomb, which Carr obliges and while the pass is still in the air, Gruden mutters “touchdown.” Not bad for a quarterback and a head coach that supposedly don’t get along. Meanwhile, on the sideline, former Raider and Green Bay Packer James Jones is chatting up Antonio Brown about how great Carr was, even as a rookie, while Brown wears a huge smile.
Next, we meet a trio of other rookies, Last Chance U star Ronald Ollie, seventh-round pick Quinton Bell, and fourth overall pick, Clelin Ferrell. Ferrell and Abram are out riding horses together, because apparently, Abram raised horses when he was younger. Abram proves this pretty quickly by effortlessly mounting a horse and trotting. Meanwhile, Clelin is struggling to get on and stay on while a banjo cover of Old Town Road plays in the background.
Speaking of Abram, his physicality is showing up before the players are really even supposed to be making contact. He’s roughing up receivers over the top and then destroying Luke Willson on a check-down, even if they’re not wearing pads. Gruden even has to come over and tell him to cool off. I’ll write that again because I don’t think I can understate that, Jon Gruden had to get after a rookie because he was too intense.
The Best Ability is Availability
The next thing that happens is that Ronald Ollie complains about a sore Achilles. In the next scene, it’s revealed that he’s skipping medical appointments and Gruden says, “let’s get some of these guys that don’t want to [expletive] play out of here” and Ollie is cut. Gruden isn’t playing around and he’s not going to put up with any resistance this year.
In the next scene, we get to see Brown practice, and it’s a thing of beauty. Watching arguably the best receiver in the NFL do his thing while Carr geeks out in the background is just awesome. Next up, we’re introduced to Richie Incognito, the controversial offensive lineman, who is talking shop with AB. The offensive linemen hit the seven-man slide, and it’s interwoven with a 19 year old clip from the GOAT, John Madden himself.
We’re treated to something really special next where Mark Davis has organized a meal for great Raider alums. It’s a veritable who’s who of Raider greats, which sadly segued into the loss of (should be) Hall of Fame wide receiver,Cliff Branch. While touching, it doesn’t linger for too long before moving into Gruden’s message that these players should get to know each other and each other’s families by showing a montage of the Raiders with their significant others and children.
Derek Carr asks his son if he likes the Chargers, and he says no. He asks his son if he likes the Broncos, and he says no. Then finally, he asks his son if he likes the Chiefs, and fortunately, he says no. Then he pats his son on the back and says “good boy.” That’s how you raise a kid right.
Everything Abram does is great. Every time he’s on the screen, he’s mouthing off and it’s hilarious. He gives Carr grief about his kids not having to work ever again, he spends a ridiculous amount of money on snacks, and he goes horseback riding with Clelin Ferrell. If being entertaining wasn’t enough, he’s a killer every single time he’s on the field. He’s out there trying to hit anyone and everyone and I can’t wait until anyone and everyone plays for someone other than Raiders.
Things That Bothered Me
Something I saw that I wasn’t thrilled about was the lack of Antonio Brown, but that’s just because I want to see him out there. I’m also a little wary of how quickly Gruden tossed Ollie aside. An Achilles is nothing to play with, but then again, he really shouldn’t have blown off his appointment. However, it’s still early. This is literally the first footage of the 2019 Oakland Raiders that we have, and I’m sure we’ll see more over the next five weeks, for better or worse. It’ll get a little rougher as the Hard Knocks get harder.
What We Learned
The biggest takeaway from this week’s episode was Jon Gruden’s 2018 quote of “the best ability is availability” still rings true. During the first team meeting, he made that point abundantly clear right off the back and then we see him back up his talk with Ollie. It’s curious how important this is in relation to Antonio Brown’s availability moving forward. It’s easy to get rid of an undrafted rookie at a position of depth, but what about the NFL’s best wide receiver?
Beyond that, Abram is everything Gruden wants in a Raider, even if he doesn’t love it during non-contact drills. He’s going to be one of the highlights of Hard Knocks. Carr is fired up and there seems to be good energy around camp. The veterans are coaching up the youngsters, Gruden resembles Chucky the coach more than Chucky the broadcaster, and I’m more optimistic than ever about this team.
Scenes From Next Time
In the preview of next weeks episode of Hard Knocks, we saw a preview of the Los Angeles Rams/Oakland Raiders joint practice, highlighted by clips of Sean McVay and Jon Gruden saying basically the same thing during camp.