There’s a damn good reason why Hard Knocks won Emmy Awards for HBO. And for Raider Nation, a fanbase frothing at the mouth to digest anything Raiders-related, that’s a damn good thing.
Hard Knocks, a show that follows an NFL team through its training camp, is in Napa with the Oakland Raiders and episode one Tuesday night didn’t disappoint.
You likely saw the trailers with head coach Jon Gruden talking to his Raiders about “nightmares”. What was absent in those teasers were unadulterated Chucky. We got to see Gruden in his profanity and F-Bomb glory.
“If you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re not going to play here,” Gruden told his players.
Then, we see all-world wide receiver Antonio Brown and his ailing foot. We saw ABs trainer ask him if his foot is good and even slow it down.
Gruden and AB at the beginning — how could you go wrong?
The episode featured rookies, the team’s rich tradition, how quickly an NFL dream can abruptly end, a troubled veteran, and a memorable horseback ride — you read that right. It was enough to immerse yourself, but not too deep to get lost in it.
If this is an appetizer to the main course — I expect to see the kumbaya atmosphere turn when jobs are on the line and players are eventually given pink slips — then we’re in for a thrill ride.
Old Town Road
Let’s get this out of the way: My favorite moment in the episode was watching first-round rookies Clelin Ferrell and Johnathan Abram go on a horseback trail ride in Napa’s wine country. Abram, felt accustomed to horse riding and ownership, is clearly the more confident of the two. But where it gets really hilarious is when the pair are riding side by side and Ferrell reaches out for Abram’s hand.
The shot of the two holding hands as they ride through the trail — priceless.
Oh, they even tell the HBO folk to play Old Town Road as the background music.
Ollie Ollie Oxen Free
We received some insight on just how quickly the decision to wax undrafted free agent Ronald Ollie from the roster really was.
Gruden seemed angry at the defensive tackle’s inability to take the field. Look, sore Achilles remain tricky — but once Gruden barked “Let’s get some of these guys that don’t want to ******* play out of here” to team trainer Rod Martin, you knew something was going down.
Add into the fact Ollie missed appointments with the training staff for treatment. No wonder the Last Chance U standout received his release.
The episode did make Ollie look uncommitted and a quitter, which is not a good look.
Abram is already the star after only one episode. Brash, physical and not afraid to banter with Gruden — when the coach was telling him to calm down with the contact when the team was in shorts — Abram can be the much-needed enforcer with swagger in the secondary.
He’s also got a welcoming personality and good sense of humor.
The exchange he had at dinner with quarterback Derek Carr on the pronunciation of salmon is a keeper.
Quarterback Derek Carr seems more relaxed and comfortable in Gruden’s scheme and his command of the team is apparent. The comical moment he shared with rookie tight end Foster Moreau will make even the hardened fan smile. Marveling at DC’s arms, Moreau slyly asks the QB if he oiled his arms before a practice. DC claims sunscreen before saying “if you guys worked out your triceps, you’d want to put some on too.”
The brief glimpses we get of AB are to behold. While cutting and full speed appears cautioned due to his ailing feet, the instances where he lines up against cornerback Gareon Conley remain fascinating. AB beats the shadow corner at the line of scrimmage, galloping at what appears full speed.
Gruden beckons his receiver to slow it down, but admits, when Brown is out there, the entire team elevates to 84’s level.
A date with Sean McVay’s Rams arrives on the next episode and the Hard Knocks crew showed just how similar the young coach is to the Raiders elder statesman.
McVay is a proud Gruden protégé and it’ll be highly entertaining to see his Rams go head-to-head with the Raiders in joint practices.
Expect some chirping, physicality and perhaps some drama.