On this week’s episode of Hard Knocks, the Bucs traveled to Jacksonville for a couple days of practice against the Jaguars before the two teams played in the preseason. These are the main takeaways.
Stop Trying to Make Doug Martin Happen
The Bucs are filled with fascinating characters. Gerald McCoy is as intelligent and entertaining as he is talented. Jameis Winston — caveat here — is a fascinating combination of leadership and talent capable of head-smacking stupidity. Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson have a heartwarming bromance. Brent Grimes and his wife, Miko — I swear this is a compliment — should be studied by psychologists. Fringe cornerback Robert McClain is a talented artist with a beautiful family. And on, and on, and on.
For the first two episodes, I kept wondering, “Where the heck is Doug Martin?” He showed some promise as a physical entertainer when he briefly appeared last week to usher some rookies offstage, but he was otherwise absent until this episode.
And now I know why: Doug Martin is the dullest person on the team. His voice is a natural monotone. He referred to his time in rehab as a “journey” while saying nothing about addiction or his treatment (he tested positive for Adderall, but the show gave no specifics beyond “violating the league’s drug policy”). Entering his sixth year, he says he needs to “start” acting like a veteran, even as the head coach singles out rookie Riley Bullough for his leadership. In a noble, but failed, effort to give him some personality, HBO showed him riding an electric skateboard (he didn’t want to rollerblade or ride a bike in college).
Martin isn’t bad or unlikable, he’s just boring. Now I know why he didn’t want to be called Muscle Hamster: he doesn’t deserve a nickname that interesting.
The Chucky and Rex Show
Three episodes of Hard Knocks, two appearances by Jon Gruden. There are perfectly good reasons for this that are not necessarily related to the Bucs’ present coach being Madame Tussaud’s version of Pete Carroll, but the optics aren’t great. Still, I welcome Chucky and his Mark Davis haircut, especially since the ESPN crew working the Bucs’ preseason game have brought along rookie broadcaster Rex Ryan, who’s just here to trash his former quarterbacks and suck on some toes. AND HE’S ALL OUTTA TOES.
REX (to Jameis Winston): You know, I’m jealous. I never had a quarterback like you, you know what I mean? That’s why I’m sitting here, and I’m pissed off about it.
GRUDEN: You think YOU’RE pissed off about it? [everyone laughs] I gotta LIVE in Tampa!
REX: Look at the guys you had. Shit, my guys were better than your guys.
GRUDEN: I got my four ki— three kids wearing Jameis Winston jerseys.
Here are the things I love about this exchange:
- Rex Ryan blames his firings on having shitty quarterbacks. And buddy, I’ve got your back when it comes to Mark Sanchez and Geno Smith and Greg McElroy (not to mention backup Tim Tebow). But Tyrod Taylor is pretty good, and Buffalo’s rushing attack was excellent the two years Ryan was there. That Bills’ defense, though? Not exactly the result of a supposed defensive mastermind.
- Rex openly states — unprompted, on video, in front of his co-workers — that he’s pissed about having his job.
- For a moment, I thought Gruden’s “You think YOU’RE pissed off about it?” was an excellent burn on Rex — and from the reaction, so did everyone in the room. Alas, he was talking about his proximity to the Bucs, and how often he sees Winston practice and play.
- Rex states that Gruden’s dogshit quarterbacks were worse than HIS dogshit quarterbacks — which isn’t true, but it IS funny that Ryan doesn’t pick up on the subtext: if Gruden won a Super Bowl with worse quarterbacks, what does it say about HIS ability as a coach?
- Jon Gruden is unsure how many kids he has?
Oh, hell yeah: we’ve got a packing and traveling montage! Time to get some slo-mo walks to the buses! We’ve got some GQ mofos going from Tampa to Jacksonville:
Watch out Russell Westbrook! The intentionally gaudy shirt isn’t my cup of tea, but it’s of the moment and fitted to his big frame. With the chain and stylish sunglasses, he looks good, and he knows it.
McCoy continues his flawless scene streak in Hard Knocks. August heat in Florida won’t keep him from looking good in tight black pants, and he’s made the most “stylish adult” decision of all: the only way to look truly good with luggage is to spend a lot of money on it and carry it in your hands.
Oh my goodness. Did my channel somehow change to a network airing a dramedy about a fabulously charming lawyer? Ladies and gentlemen, SPORT is in session!
And wait, are those ...
... CHERUB CHAINS?!?! Help, my TV is melting from this heat! Honey, cash my 401(k), I have to pay this man whatever it takes to be my personal stylist.
OK, who’s next?
Becky, your dad’s here!
Beautiful, scenic Jacksonville
The First Law of Hard Knocks is: If something can look epic, it will look epic. Tacky team headquarters will be captured with breathtaking drone footage panoramas. If a garbage barge passes by, it will be shot in low-angle slow-motion during the golden hour. If a team travels to Jacksonville, Florida — our nation’s sprawling ode to shipping containers and jungle rot — then it will look like a goddamn postcard.
To be clear: that is a screenshot I slapped some text on. I know, it’s a little slapdash. But I’m not going to shell out for Avalon font just so I can make the internet a better Jacksonville postcard.
A moment for Chris Baker
Defensive tackle Chris Baker (pictured humping a tree) has been a delightful trash talker in every episode this season, getting more air time each week — and with good reason. Here he is talking with some Jaguars fans:
You crazy, boy. We out here destroyin’ y’all. Y’all got to be the angriest fans in the world. Cuz y’all ... is going to get at least three wins.
He also split a sideline hot dog with McCoy during the second half of the preseason game at Jacksonville.
McCOY: Hey Bake! (waves hot dog) You so fat. You gotta be the fattest dude I know.
BAKER: Where’d you get it from, bro?
McCOY: Don’t worry about it. You want half?
He pulled a Sanchez! Don’t disrespect the game!
Lunch is on Gerald
While in Jacksonville, Coach Koetter informs the team that McCoy has arranged for three food trucks to provide ribs, wings, and snow cones for lunch, all paid for by the star defensive tackle (McCoy to Baker: “Except you, Bake.”)
This is an awesome gesture. I love hot wings and ribs.
BUT. Giving 90 massive pro athletes — many of them over 300 pounds — as many hot wings as they can eat ... for lunch ... in Jacksonville ... in August ... seems like an act of war on the hotel’s plumbing. My heart goes out to those poor toilets.
THE SCENE: Quarterbacks Jameis Winston, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Ryan Griffin ask about Sefo Liufau’s girlfriend. A condensed version of their discussion follows.
LIUFAU: Her family has four goats.
WINSTON: Oh, so she rich?
GRIFFIN: You’re so country.
WINSTON: If you got goats, you got MONEY. I’m from Alabama. If you got some cattle, you rich.
LIUFAU: I’m pretty sure they got the goats from goat rescue, they’re only like $100.
Winston LOVED the idea of a goat rescue operation that worked like a dog shelter.
Elsewhere in the realm of quarterbacks, Fitzpatrick had some excellent, subtle digs at Winston. The best was following a pregame huddle with the offense, in which the players repeated each line of Winston’s poem about beating the Jaguars. After the interminable scene, Fitz, sitting next to Winston at their lockers, leaned over and deadpanned, “You rhyme was a little long.” But I also enjoyed this:
FITZ: Would you say Muhammad Ali is one of your biggest inspirations?
FITZ: When you talk, when you break down, I can, like, I can just feel that you’ve seen a lot of his stuff.
This conversation was immediately followed by a clip of Winston speaking to the team, and Fitz is clearly right: it’s like a cross between Ali and Ray Lewis.
OK, first: if you have not seen Winston GLORIOUS interception that was overturned because he was ruled down, you must go watch it now.
The exchange that happened next was beautiful, because Dirk Koetter has never been more relatable. For one minute, Koetter is the football version of “extremely pissed off dad who is trying to be loving and constructive with his son, but is also JUST SO PISSED AT HIM.”
DIRK: Jameis. You’re fuckin’ playing a great game. You’re playing a great game. And then your greed takes over. If this is real football, that’s so fuckin’ stupid. That’s guaranteed points! You’re so much better than that! You’re so much better. You’re playing a great game. You just threw a great, perfect spot to O.J., GREAT go route, and then you fuckin’ do that!
JAMEIS: I got you. I got you.
DIRK: You can’t do that! Ever! Ever! Ever!
I hope Winston NEVER cuts down on his turnovers. Just an entire career of every TV announcer raving about how talented he is while he throws 18 picks a year. “Such POISE while throwing that backbreaking pick, Troy.”
The Cruel Business
This episode’s rookie undrafted free agent to fall in love with was Maurice Fleming. We get the full, nasty arc of his tragedy over the course of one hour: we meet him hanging out in a pool with other rookies. He shines in practice. He wakes up before sunrise to train on his own.
The coaches praise him. In the preseason game, he injures his knee as the Jaguars make a desperate final drive. He can’t cut. He can barely run. But he stays on the field, because he has to stay on the field to make the team. He makes the game-saving pass break-up.
But this story doesn’t have a happy ending, because it’s the NFL. Fleming gets X-rays and an MRI on his knee, then waits for a small eternity to get the results. He’ll be out four weeks, so he’s out of a job. The Bucs waive him.
What a crap-ass league.
- Jameis Winston workout montage
- Doug Martin game footage montage
- Team walk-through montage. An odd choice, I know, but I liked that it was (a) scored by the director of team security playing a hotel piano, and (b) showed this extremely weird-looking thing that every single NFL team does before a game.
- Food preparation montage. I’m very hungry right now.
- Sucking at practice montage
- Offense clicking montage
- Gassers montage. Don’t make gassers a montage unless you deliver on a puke shot.
- Players’ day off montage. This didn’t have enough music or quick-cuts to be a true montage, I just wanted to point out that Ali Marpet spent his off day reading a book, eating sushi, and playing his ukulele by himself on Picnic Island.
But for real, he seems nice.