Your Definitive 2012 ‘Hard Knocks’ Preview

I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited to go back to school.  While the Hall of Fame game might constitute the “official” start of the NFL preseason, real fans know better.  It’s not until HBO’s “Hard Knocks” gets underway that it feels like football, real football, is finally upon us.  With the 2011 lockout forcing cancellation of the series last year, it’s been a good two years since HBO has taken us inside a team’s training camp with its customary top notch production values (oh, how I love the “Hard Knocks” B-rolls) and spine-tingling narration.  Sure, teams have become more media savvy over the years, resulting in the series appearing increasingly staged (see the Jets and Cowboys seasons), but what reality show isn’t these days?  “Hard Knocks” is not a documentary; it’s a celebration of the grit, physicality, and obsessiveness that makes up the NFL. Considering that the sport maintains an unrelenting dominance over American pop culture, it’s nice to know the primary actors care so much.

In case you didn’t know, “Hard Knocks” heads to south Florida this year to visit the Miami Dolphins camp.  It wasn’t the obvious choice, given some of the more prominent training camp storylines heading into this season (hint, one rhymes with “she blow”).  But I really think it was a wise one, as the Dolphins provide many compelling storylines for HBO to explore.  Here’s just a few I’m looking forward to:

1.  Is Joe Philbin Head Coach Material?:  With his success as Green Bay’s offensive coordinator, we all know Philbin can scheme and develop young arms. But being a head coach is a far different animal.  With so many different personnel, coaches, and strategies to manage, being the head coach is a true “general” position unlike any other in sports.  One of the best things about “Hard Knocks” is that it can give you real insight into how the head coach is able to control, and inspire, his team.  I know, in prior seasons, I gained a lot of respect for Marvin Lewis (Bengals) and, to a lesser extent, Rex Ryan (Jets), but also had suspicions confirmed that Herm Edwards (Chiefs) and Wade Philips (Cowboys) were in over their heads.  Where will Philbin fall on this spectrum?

2.  Balancing Football with Family:  The shocking news from last week about the death of Garrett Reid, the 29 year-old son of Andy Reid, brought the well-known difficulties between balancing an NFL career with family life back to forefront.  “Hard Knocks” usually provides some insight into the family lives of certain players, but I am very curious as to whether the show will address the incident with any on-air reactions from Philbin, who just last year lost his own son, Michael.

3.  Chad Johnson Redux:  In case you missed it, Chad Johnson se llama Ocho Cinco no mas.  Johnson reached the peak of his popularity in 2009, when “Hard Knocks” profiled his Bengals and we were treated to such gems as “kiss the baby” and “child please,” along with actual stellar performance on the field.  It will be very interesting to see whether Johnson has been humbled by his disastrous season in New England and whether he has any gas left in the tank. And, most importantly, does he still communicate with the T to his Ocho out in Seattle?

4.  David Garrard vs. Matt Moore vs. Ryan Tannenhill:  Most NFL teams are lucky if they have one quality starting QB, but somehow the Dolphins are blessed with three!  Ok, that came straight out of the Dolphins PR department.  The truth is, the Dolphins have two QBs pulled from the NFL scrap heap (Garrard and Moore), and a third (Tannenhill) who is completely raw and was, by all accounts, a reach by the Dolphins in their first-round selection of him.  Kind of a problem if you want to be a competitive NFL franchise.  With yesterday’s release of the depth chart going Garrard/Moore/Tannenhill, we know how this battle will play out.  But it will be very interesting to observe the dynamic between these three during camp.

5.  Random Back-Up Fullback Battle:  Sure, the chronicling of high-profile players and coaches is all well and good.  But it’s getting into the weeds of a training camp positional battle where “Hard Knocks” consistently delivers compelling television.  For these players, success is not measured in wins and losses, but rather whether or not you have to go back to stocking shelves at the local grocery store.  The fullback seems to be a position the series focuses on, probably because it’s always unclear how many fullbacks a team will keep on their 53-man roster.  So, Ryan Mahaffey and Jerome Messam, we don’t know anything about you now, but we’ll soon be living and dying on your every missed block, dropped pass, and (occasional) running opportunity.

6.  South Beach Excursions:  I know I’m dreaming, but is there any chance we can get the “Hard Knocks” cameras into the South Beach nightclubs to see how the players blow off steam?  And none of the Red Bull cranberry bs from Chad Johnson; I want to see bottle service, jaeger bombs, and groupies.  If I was an NFL player, that’s what I’d be doing every night during camp.  Perhaps that’s why I’m not.

See also:

The Wise Guy’s Offseason Funk Chronicles