Touching on all the glitz, glamour, celebrities and the Pokemon Go craze while offering the first look at the freshly relocated Los Angeles Rams as they prepare for the upcoming 2016 NFL season, HBO Sports premiered the latest season of it’s long-running reality series “Hard Knocks” Tuesday night.
The first episode of the show’s 11th season covered both players and coaches in their preparations leading up to training camp at the University of California-Irvine in Orange County, flirted but largely sidestepped the Rams somewhat messy move from St. Louis to back to their original home on the West Coast, and even included the release of two players within the first 20 minutes.
Appropriately, “Hard Knocks” producers spent much of the premiere setting up key storylines on the shoulders of rookie quarterback Jared Goff, head coach Jeff Fisher, star defensive tackle Aaron Donald, and introduced several of the rookies who may or may not earn a roster spot by the season finale.
Goff, who the Rams selected No. 1 overall, is firmly at the forefront of the show just like he is the Rams’ future as a franchise and in their new location. He and rookie receiver Pharoh Cooper opened the show aboard a GoodYear blimp and prepped for take off, and when airborne bold red letters reading “Welcome Los Angeles Rams” flashed to signal the Rams’, and really Goff’s, arrival.
The former California Golden Bears star went through some typical good-natured teasing from teammates and coaches, specifically for his lack of knowledge of where the sun rises and sets, and was also ripped for throwing several interceptions.
Mixed with sessions led by Rams quarterbacks coach and former Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke, we learned in the first episode that Goff never even called a play in a huddle before, and how he continues to develop will be an ongoing arc throughout the season while he battles veteran and current starting quarterback Case Keenum for the job.
First showing him fly fishing in Montana with his son and Rams defensive backs coach Brandon, Fisher, entering his fifth season with the Rams and his 22nd overall as an NFL head coach, was shown fretting over the lack of air conditioning at UC-Irvine’s dorms and also cut two players while attempting to ready his squad for the trials and tribulations of camp.
We saw Fisher first release former Rams starting quarterback Nick Foles over the phone, a move that was widely expected after taking Goff in the draft, but it wasn’t the usual cut “Hard Knocks” fans are use to. Typically, a player’s called into the head coach or general manager’s office and the cameras catch every emotion. However, that would come a little later in the episode.
Fisher opened camp with a very simple and straight forward meeting. He said he wants no part of another 7-9 or 8-8 record and wants players to focus on the little things, including sticking to the basic rules he laid down for camp, like no visitors in the dorms.
Unfortunately for receiver Deon Long, he learned Fisher wasn’t kidding around. Long explained a female visitor came by the dorms and wasn’t going to stay over, but Fisher released him as punishment. Thankfully for Long, Fisher cut him early in camp and that left him a chance to latch on with another team. Long is now with the Philadelphia Eagles, who signed him on Aug. 5.
But the first episode wasn’t all doom and gloom, and in fact there were several funny moments. Donald, who was named first-team All-Pro in just his second season in 2015, was hailed by coaches (even hardliner and defensive assistant Mike Singletary) and dubbed as “The Best Player You’ve Never Heard Of” by narrator Liev Schreiber.
Donald also treated viewers to a game of shirtless pingpong, which he lost, but its evident he will be a huge focal point for the show much like defensive end J.J. Watt was for the Houston Texans last season.
There was also wide receiver Tavon Austin and his adventure playing Pokemon Go around the campus while cruising around in a golf cart, much to the amusement of his teammates.
We also learned Goff may have thing for pop superstar Taylor Swift and he thought maybe the Rams knew someone who knew someone to arrange a meeting.
Keep all those storylines in mind when the next episode airs Tuesday, Aug. 16 on HBO.