Aaron Rodgers gives a speech on "Hard Knocks." Aaron Rodgers gives a speech on “Hard Knocks.” (HBO.)

It’s early days and the New York Jets don’t have all the answers, but they do have Aaron Rodgers. And if you watched the opening episode of this season’s Hard Knocks, he’s a larger-than-life figure that the team can’t believe is theirs.

Aaron Rodgers is nothing like they say on TV, says veteran defensive lineman Al Woods, who came over from Seattle in the offseason. And according to Woods, “Whatever they said about Aaron Rodgers on TV is a lie.”

Rodgers has done a lot of that to himself, but he makes for a compelling story and a good central figure for the HBO/NFL Films series. There are many reasons why the Jets were chosen as this year’s Hard Knocks team despite their initial opposition, but chief among them is perhaps Rodgers. 

“I’ll give you some good shit today,” Rodgers told one of the HBO/NFL Films series cameramen.

That, he did.

Rodgers has been a notable on-field NFL figure since taking over from Brett Favre as the Packers’ starting quarterback ahead of the 2008 season, but he’s become an incredibly prominent off-field one in the last few years as well, sharing his opinions on everything from vaccines to media reports to darkness retreat.

He’s also the best quarterback that Jets coach Robert Saleh has ever had on his team.

Speaking of Saleh, his speech, which they chose to use at the beginning of the episode, not only captivated his players but was a good springboard for the start of the episode. Hard Knocks also circled back to reference speech, which was a bit out there, but it certainly got the point across.

Saleh lay awake thinking about his team. The only bird that has the balls to fight back at an Eagle—his words, not ours—is a crow. Eagles often fly to higher altitudes to shake off a group of crows or escape. In case you were wondering, the Jets are the Eagles in this analogy, and the team’s critics are the crows.

In addressing his team and using an imperfect analogy, Saleh wants his player to embrace that they are no longer the same old Jets. They have Aaron freaking Rodgers on their team. And now that they have a Hall of Fame quarterback under center, he wants his team to embrace that they are now the hunted, and no longer the hunters. They have a target on their back. No longer are opposing teams looking at the schedule, seeing the New York Jets and chalking up an easy “W.”

When a crow attacks an eagle, it tries to bring it down by pecking at its neck. But the eagle rises above the attack by flying to higher altitudes. In the same way, Saleh was challenging his players to rise above the criticism and live up to those expectations and then some. After all, that Super Bowl III trophy is looking awfully lonely in the lobby of the team’s facility in Florham Park, New Jersey.

While Saleh wants his team to embrace expectations, they’ve embraced Aaron Rodgers. The 39-year-old quarterback still has it. And he’s still making throws that no one on this planet should be capable of making. During a portion of practice, Rodgers hit a difficult pass, making an across-the-body throw with a defender in his face.

And defensive coordinator Jeff Ulrbich didn’t get mad.

Other coaches might have, but not Ulbrich. Why, you ask?

“He’s our quarterback.”

That same quarterback was making just some absurd no-look passes, which drew some imitations from some of his teammates like Sauce Gardner and Garrett Wilson.

Probably one of the more compelling stories that also directly implicated Rodgers is the battle between Gardner and Wilson. The reigning Defensive of Offensive Rookies of the Year, respectively, are only going to make one another better. The Jets hit the jackpot with Rodgers, but they sure did when they drafted these two. These battles may become another central plotline to follow on Hard Knocks. And why not? They’re probably the best two players on the team not named Aaron Rodgers.

Speaking of Rodgers, he finally got to meet the “voice of God,” actor Liev Schreiber., who HBO/NFL Films had make a grand entrance via a helicopter. Rodgers had his wish granted, but he also badgered some of his fellow quarterbacks in the quarterback room to talk to Schreiber. He also did so with offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, who he told “Don’t be an asshole,” when his longtime coach and friend didn’t seem too interested in exchanging pleasantries with the 55-year-old actor.

We also got cameos from Nick Van Exel, Tiki Barber, Jason Garrett, Curtis Martin and Method Man, who read a quote that he attributed to former New York Jets and Giants head coach, Bill Parcells. Though, the quote is from a poem called The Man in the Glass, which you can see Parcells recite below:

If you had that on your Hard Knocks Bingo card, congratulations, you won!

While it’s hard to top Method Man reading a quote from Parcells, Jets running backs Michael Carter and Damarea Crockett may have done so, by thinking that Garrett, the former head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, was somehow still employed as a coach with the crosstown rivals New York Giants.

“We can’t have ops in practice now.”

Don’t worry guys, we can assure you that no NFL team will be hiring Garrett anytime soon.

Speaking of something that won’t be happening anytime soon, Sauce Gardner isn’t going to be enriched in the Hall of Fame, at least for a long, long time. But when Aaron Rodgers is old and gray, he’s convinced that the second-year cornerback will be Canton royalty one day. Just like Darrelle Revis.

Gardner has a long way to go from Canton reaching the heights of Revis, but so does the Jets’ season, which started with a 21-16 loss to the Cleveland Browns in the Hall of Fame game last Thursday at the Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton.

It’ll be hard for the Jets to live up to the expectations that were set for them by Rex Ryan and the 2009-10 version of the Jets that took Hard Knocks by storm, but Tuesday’s season premiere is off to a great start.

About Sam Neumann

Since the beginning of 2023, Sam has been a staff writer for Awful Announcing and The Comeback. A 2021 graduate of Temple University, Sam is a Charlotte native, who currently calls Greenville, South Carolina his home. He also has a love/hate relationship with the New York Mets and Jets.