In the words of narrator Liev Schreiber, “Training Camp can make you mental.” And the lack of access from the New York Jets on this edition of Hard Knocks is probably doing the same for the folks at HBO/NFL Films.
Adam Schefter wasn’t joking around when he gave the worst promo for this year’s edition of Hard Knocks. It was only last month ago that Schefter told an exasperated Mike Greenberg that the Jets were not interested in being partners with HBO/NFL Films and the series won’t be the same because they’re not going to be given the same access.
And we’ve begun to see that through two episodes.
Beyond being in positional meetings and whatever the hell that magic show was with Oz Pearlman, an “American mentalist,” the access was pretty lackluster in terms of what Episode 2 had to offer, but getting a look into Jets coach Robert Saleh eviscerating the team’s offensive line was certainly a highlight of the series thus far. And we’ll get this out of the way early, you’ll have to wait until next week for any behind-the-scenes Dalvin Cook footage.
— New York Jets (@nyjets) August 15, 2023
While Aaron Rodgers was a central figure of the series, again. This week’s episode put the focus on Quinnen Williams and the New York Jets defensive line. Williams, who signed a four-year, $96 million extension, has been dominant this summer. And if the Carolina Panthers weren’t already aware of how good the 25-year-old defensive tackle is, they are now.
During the first day of joint practices between the Jets and Panthers at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina, Williams was unblockable. He estimated that he had 10 sacks going up against the Panthers’ offensive line. Shortly thereafter, Rodgers held up two fingers to signal that Williams had now reached 11 sacks.
And if you thought the Panthers’ offensive line play was poor, just wait til you hear about how the Jets looked. Rodgers who has been happy-go-lucky since arriving in New York was the most frustrated we’ve seen him in a Jets uniform. The honeymoon stage is over and the Jets have to figure out how they’re going to protect their Hall of Fame quarterback.
One thing you can credit Hard Knocks for though is showing a different side of Saleh that others don’t often see. Saleh will never, ever publically bash his players, but his offensive line sure got a lashing after last week’s joint practice against the Panthers.
“We’re missing something,” Saleh was heard saying to an assistant coach. “We are not ready to play football.”
Back at the team hotel, Saleh let his offensive line have it. After praising the play of the defense, Saleh went in on the offense, essentially saying that the joint practice was the first opportunity to change the stink that’s been in the organization for years on the offensive side of the ball. And they did anything to disprove the notion that they are anything more than a mediocre offense.
“You can have a Hall of Fame quarterback, you can have two 10-plus million-dollar receivers, you can have a reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year, you can have all kinds of skill in the running back room,” Saleh said. “None of it f****** matters until the big boys up front change who the f*** we are.”
Wow #Jets HC Robert Saleh went off on his OL after the joint practice vs #Panthers & questioned their effort ? ‘you can have a Hall of Fame quarterback, you can have two $10 million dollar plus receivers, you can have a reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year, you can have all… pic.twitter.com/L4JxG8Afkx
— Paul Andrew Esden Jr (@BoyGreen25) August 16, 2023
Any narrative that Saleh wasn’t tough enough on his players was officially put to rest with that clip above. Hard Knocks breaks the fourth wall of what happens in public and what happens in private. It just doesn’t happen enough in this episode, which, again is because of the access, or lack thereof, that the Jets are providing.
It’s certainly fair to say that the Jets’ offensive line answered the bell in the team’s 27-0 shutout win in their second game of the preseason. Beyond that, the Jets gave Panthers rookie quarterback Bryce Young quite the rude welcome to the NFL and again, had a field day with Carolina’s offensive line, recording five sacks and eight quarterback hits in the process.
“God, I love kicking people’s a****,” Saleh said.
Speaking of committing violence against others in the name of the offensive line, during joint practices, Rodgers was able to reunite with one of his former coaches from Green Bay, James Campen. Now the offensive line coach of the Panthers, it didn’t take long for Rodgers to rag on his former coach.
“What’s up little *****, you look fat as ****,” he told Campen.
Rodgers also told Campen that he was going to kick him in the nuts if he weighed over 270 pounds.
It’s hard to deny the impact that Rodgers has already had on this year’s series. And Hard Knocks has done everything it can to make him come across as a likable figure, even though he did fat shame Campen. 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 sure as hell shared his opinion on the team’s offensive line play in this episode. Just as offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett shared with Zach Wilson that a throw that the young quarterback made in the team’s largest shutout win in preseason history “turned him on.”
Do with that information what you will. Another thing you should know is that nobody on the team or any other remaining players in the entire league should want to mess with Micheal Clemons.
To recap, the things that worked well in this episode were the impassioned speech by Saleh and the fun little throwaway moments, such as when passing game coordinator Todd Downing introduced the quarterback room to Cinema Sunday and indoctrinated the young players on the late comedian Leslie Nielsen during the playing of the end credits. In a funny coincidence, right after that, the episode showed Jets offensive lineman Connor McGovern and Joe Tippmann discussing Nielsen’s classic scene from Naked Gun, in which he forgot to turn off his mic while using the restroom. This was presumably a reference to how the Jets are also mic’d up.
Another neat anecdote was getting to see first-round pick Will McDonald IV, not only have his way during the team’s 27-0 preseason win but get multiple piercings prior to the team’s arrival in the Carolinas. Hard Knocks offered up a lot of details on McDonald getting his eyebrow and nose pierced, which is something that’s likely never been shown on the show before.
"Shortchange." – @AaronRodgers12
— New York Jets (@nyjets) August 16, 2023
As for what didn’t work, well the rookie show was a disaster for starters. Not that that’s a Hard Knocks issue, but it still reigns true. And second, Hard Knocks hasn’t done a great job of getting people to care about those beyond Aaron Rodgers, Zach Wilson, Robert Saleh and Quinnen Williams. We’ll see if that changes moving forward, especially with the expected arrival of Dalvin Cook. It’s clear that the lack of access is hurting the quality of the episode, not from a storytelling standpoint, but from giving the audience a viewpoint of why they should care about the Jets. There haven’t been as many personal aspects in this year’s series, it’s been much more football driven. They aren’t getting in the weeds and that’s probably due to the lack of access, as we’ve mentioned before. Again, that’s not necessarily HBO/NFL Films’ fault, but it’s just the unfortunate predicament that Gang Green has placed them in.