Recaps that simply regurgitate an episode’s chronology are for children. THIS IS THE PROS, BABY. Here are the six biggest takeaways from the second episode of this season’s “Hard Knocks.”
1 - Jameis Winston owns the locker room
Despite his checkered history in media reports, it’s easy to see why Winston is beloved by teammates; he projects an easy and magnetic leadership in every scene. Before the Bucs’ first preseason game, Winston goes to each of his teammates in the locker room and tells him, “I got your back.” It sounds small on the page, but his passion was apparent as he said it again and again and again.
He brought that warmth and enthusiasm throughout the episode, but the cutthroat business of football is clear to him. In the quarterbacks room, Winston gently broke a hard reality to undrafted rookie free agent Sefo Liufau (below), who displayed naïveté about when players could be cut. Winston: “You can get cut any time. They don’t care.”
Later, backup quarterback Ryan Griffin took a hard hit from a Cincinnati defender and left the game with a shoulder injury. Winston walked over to some offensive linemen, leaned in, and calmly told them “I’m happy y’all are having fun, but Ryan just hurt his shoulder.” He started to walk away. “But keep having fun.”
The picture of Winston, through two episodes, is of a quarterback quick to laugh, willing to admit his mistakes, and dedicated to something he takes seriously. As a viewer who entered the series critical of Winston’s past, I definitely feel like a sucker for buying into what I’ve seen. On the other hand, it’s a testament to how well the show is made.
2 - Miko Grimes makes terrific TV
Miko Grimes is smart, outspoken, profane, and clearly dedicated to her husband, cornerback Brent Grimes. (If you haven’t read Jack Dickey’s profile of the couple for Sports Illustrated, I recommend it.) It’s easy to see why her personality could be off-putting to NFL front offices or fans, but for a league that attempts to tamp down anything resembling a personality, I find her candor refreshing.
And while I don’t doubt the love that she and Brent share, I do suspect that — like many other spouses throughout world history — Brent occasionally tunes his partner out. Here he is at the beginning of a Miko monologue (Mikologue?), 16 minutes and 6 seconds into the episode:
The camera cuts to some game action of Brent, then back to the couple, where Brent is still staring a thousand yards away, then to more action, then back to Miko talking and Brent is farther away from Earth than any human has traveled. He is hurtling through space with Pioneer 9.
Miko talks about how she always gets a hotel room in the same hotel as the Bucs when they travel. She talks about how sex with him is part of that routine, and when she says “hanky-panky” nothing in his eyes brightens or shows any recognition that he was ever human.
The screencap above is from 16 minutes and 32 seconds into the episode, just before he escapes the Sunken Place. So for TWENTY-SIX SECONDS, Brent’s brain checked out, went to the grocery store, and came back with a gallon of milk. And I’m happy to give any married person the benefit of the doubt when it comes to listening to every word your partner says, but this was for a sit-down, on-camera interview.
The Starry Night. The Godfather. Kind of Blue. There aren’t many perfect works of art in the world, but those 26 seconds of “Hard Knocks” are right up there.
3 - Gerald McCoy is a superstar
Every scene Gerald McCoy touches turns to gold. He wears socks bearing the likenesses of pro wrestlers. He wears Incredible Hulk cleats. When Ed Hochuli comes to Bucs camp to clarify the rule changes to celebrations, McCoy breaks down the intricacies of what is and is not sexual. There is an entire montage dedicated to his excellence on the field. He hilariously riffs on the customer service at Chik-Fil-A. He has a superhero-themed man cave that depicts him as Football Batman.
McCoy already has the accolades: five Pro Bowls, three first-team All-Pro selections. But he deserves ad campaigns and the adoration of casual fans. This recap is conflicted on Jameis Winston but an unapologetic cheerleader for Gerald McCoy.
4 - Farewell, sweet Berto
Last year, the Buccaneers made one of the stupidest moves in NFL Draft history, trading up to draft kicker Roberto Aguayo in the second round. As Kevin Seifert of ESPN pointed out, most of the best kickers in NFL history have gone undrafted, and the difference between the best kicker and the 15th-best kicker in any given year is half a point per game. We can and absolutely should clown GM Jason Licht about this forever: it displays a spectacular misunderstanding of kickers’ value and the variance that can sink them on a year-to-year basis.
Anyway, Aguayo went from the most accurate kicker in college football history to the worst kicker in the NFL, and Licht and coach Dirk Koetter cut him. And there isn’t much to say about this scene except I hid my head inside my shirt and wanted it to be over. It was an event horizon of discomfort, stretching out into forever like a Brent Grimes stare.
5 - The rookies and fringe players seem pretty safe
Like all teams, the Bucs will have to trim their roster from 90 players to 53. But I’m not sure how many firings -- like Aguayo’s -- we’ll have to endure. Previous seasons of Hard Knocks seemed especially targeted to build the audience’s connection with fringe players, only to break our hearts when they inevitably got cut. This season’s crop, by comparison, feels further from the chopping block.
Third-string linebacker Riley “Joe Dirt” Bullough is way down the depth chart, but his fire and leadership may help him stick as a special teamer. Running back Jeremy McNichols is guaranteed nothing as a fifth-rounder, but his skill set mimics Doug Martin’s; he seems useful. Veteran corner Robert McClain looked more likely to make the team after playing well following Brent Grimes’ leg laceration. Look, Miko took a picture!
Thanks, Miko. Show it to more children next time.
6 - DeSean Jackson has bad sports takes
Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson remain Adorable Receiver Buds, but their discussion on where Kobe Bryant stands among NBA greats ... WOOF. Evans generously ranked Bryant the fourth-best player of all time, behind LeBron James at two. Jackson, playing on his third NFL team, countered that he didn’t like how LeBron “had to leave” in order to win his championships.
COME ON, Y’ALL. If you don’t support the labor side, you’re never gonna get guaranteed contracts.
MONTAGE RANKING, WEEK 2
- Gerald McCoy kicking ass montage -- Made even better by the offensive players consoling each other about getting dominated.
- Practice montage No. 1 (heat and humidity) -- A pre-opening-credits montage! A bold editorial move (don’t wanna blow your montage load too early), but it hooked me.
- Practice montage No. 2 — No real theme of this, except to cleanse the viewer’s football palate after an extended kicking battle scene.
- Defensive failure montage — Mike Smith’s reactions to the Bengals’ domination of the Bucs’ backup defense upped the comedy significantly.
- Quarterbacks sucking until Jameis inspires them montage
- Cryogenic recovery montage — Low-energy and lacked context. Needed a team doctor to tell us about the benefits. It’s not like Joe Football Fan has a cryo-chamber he uses at the local Planet Fitness.
Part Shot: Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Secret of Halftime Hot Dogs
Great, now I want a hot dog.