The Los Angeles Rams will provide the producers of HBO Sports' documentary “Hard Knocks” plenty of intrigue and even thought-provoking fare as the team embarks on its new first season in L.A. and prepares for the 2016 season. None will perhaps be greater than the Rams relocation effort from St. Louis and its return to Los Angeles after 22 years away (which includes increased attention from hordes of media), and how the No. 2 media market in the country welcomes the Rams and the NFL back after a lengthy absence.
But “Hard Knocks” producers have already released a teaser and trailer that remind both long-time and first-time viewers that the 11th season will remain firmly rooted in the storylines and arcs it has usually covered: football and the players and coaches who turned their childhood game and dreams into a real-life profession.
The series takes place primarily at the Rams training camp at University of California-Irvine in Orange County, located near the club's former home of Anaheim Stadium. The Rams will play their games at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum before moving into a new stadium in Inglewood in 2019.
Here are five storylines “Hard Knocks” viewers can expect when the five-episode program returns for Tuesdays, starting Aug. 9. And, yes, Liev Schreiber is still the narrator.
Rookie QB Jared Goff
The former California Golden Bears star is the 49th quarterback to be drafted by the Rams in a long list of signal callers that includes Hall of Famers Bob Waterfield and Norman Van Brocklin.
But it’s Goff’s adjustment to the complexity of NFL offenses and defenses, along with the increased speed of the game, and his potential to provide the Rams with steady production under center that will serve as the focal point of his storyline.
The Rams surrendered two years worth of draft picks in order to move up and draft Goff in April, and he’s likely to face even more scrutiny than former Rams No. 1 pick and current Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford. The comparisons to Bradford, who went 25-37-1 as a starter, are unavoidable and will likely be a key part of Goff’s transition.
Star Running Back Todd Gurley
Entering his second NFL season and turning 22 years old on Wednesday, Gurley became a rookie sensation for a Rams offense that struggled throughout most of 2015. Like Goff this year, Gurley had to overcome the typical hurdles NFL rookies face as well as cast aside any doubts over his surgically repaired knee. In 2015, Gurley finished third in the league in rushing and captured Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.
Gurley avoiding a sophomore slump should be a hot topic on "Hard Knocks."
Running Back Tre Mason’s Offseason
Mason, who lost his job to Gurley last season, has yet to report to training camp and currently no one on the team has spoken to or seen him during the offseason. TMZ reported last week that police have been called to Mason’s home in Florida five times over the last four months and his family is “extremely concerned.” The report also stresses that during one incident on July 23, Mason threatened to call the White House and made several statements about Al Qaeda.
The Rams placed Mason on the Reserve/Did Not Report list and he’s been excused from camp for “personal reasons.”
It’s unclear how much “Hard Knocks” can cover Mason since he’s not presently with the Rams in camp, and the producers may be short on material unless players and coaches comment on the situation. However, given the nature of the story the show may have to touch on the subject with the information they can gather on the ground.
Head Coach Jeff Fisher
While Fisher’s unlikely to stir the pot like former New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan did back in 2010, cursing and yelling at players much to the glee of fans, “Hard Knocks” will certainly touch on Fisher’s history as a coach and how he joined the Rams. He took over the Rams job in 2012, two years after the Tennessee Titans fired him after 17 years of service.
As a member of the Chicago Bears Super Bowling-winning squad, Fisher certainly has rich ties to the NFL and a history of winning. However, he has yet to post a winning season with the Rams and he could be on the hot seat this year.
Last season, the Rams had the youngest roster in the NFL with an average age of 24.94. Once the final cuts are made and the roster’s whittled down to 53 players, the Rams will still likely have a very green group of players. Currently, the Rams roster includes 27 rookies and it’s a number Fisher will certainly trim.
Nine-year veteran defensive end William Hayes stands as the most senior member of the Rams this season, followed by guard Garrett Reynolds with eight years of NFL experience, defensive ends Eugene Sims and Cam Thomas and guard Rodger Saffold each sporting seven years on the pro gridiron, and Pro Bowl defensive end Robert Quinn next up at six years.
How these veterans, serving on both offense and defense, act as leaders and teach the rookies will likely be a major storyline. Of course there’s also the potential for hazing, something “Hard Knocks” has covered many times before.
Quinn, who totaled 40 sacks between the 2012 and 2014 seasons, is still currently recovering from offseason back surgery and as one of the best pass rushers in the NFL his health will be an ongoing issue for “Hard Knocks” and the Rams all season.