This season’s Hard Knocks with the New York Jets returned on Tuesday with the third episode, which felt a bit more personable than the others. HBO/NFL Films series returned to its roots by following two unheralded players, Tanzel Smart and Israel “Izzy” Abanikanda, for a good portion of the episode, while also giving a deeper look into Randall Cobb and his family.
Smart, a 2017 sixth-round draft choice out of Tulane, spent three seasons with the Los Angeles Rams. After cups of coffee in Cleveland and Buffalo, he’s found a home in New York where he’s spent the last four seasons. And while he’s only played six games with Gang Green, he figures to be part of that defensive line unit, even though it’s a bit crowded.
— Peter Schwartz (@SchwartzSports) August 23, 2023
While Abanikanda has had an excellent camp, Breece Hall and Dalvin Cook joining the fray has made his opportunities a bit more slim. His roster spot isn’t in jeopardy yet, but this is the first time in the three episodes that Hard Knocks has outlined a rookie that isn’t Will McDonald IV, New York’s 2023 first-round pick.
HBO/NFL Films followed both players throughout the duration of the episode and showed each of their families in the stands for the team’s preseason game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Abanikanda, a Brooklyn native, was able to play in front of his immediate family at MetLife Stadium, while Smart’s wife and infant daughter were also present. The promising rookie banged his knee/thigh into the knee of his teammate. A little bit of friendly fire forced the rookie out of Pittsburgh to be helped off the field, as he couldn’t put any weight on his right foot. We got a glimpse of the raw emotion from Abanikanda, his family, and the coaching staff.
It was another glimpse into the familial aspect of this episode, which went more in-depth with the Cobb family. We learned that Aaron Rodgers is the godfather to one of Cobb’s sons, as the two go back more than a decade of being teammates. Despite being an addition that the team wouldn’t have made without the signing of the future Hall of Fame quarterback, it’s pretty clear that Cobb has already risen to the occasion and become a vocal leader for a talented but inexperienced wide receiver room.
Probably the most impactful scene of the third episode of the HBO/NFL Films series was Cobb addressing the wide receiver room. He didn’t step on Zach Azzanni’s toes, rather the series is showing just how much of a player-led team the Jets are. And as we know, the best teams are the ones that are player-led.
Cobb told his fellow compatriots in the wide receiver room that he spoke with Rodgers, whom he’s been close with since the two were in Green Bay, and they have to clean up the mental mistakes or “little things.”
“It’s all cool right now, but one day, I’m telling you he’s gonna lose his ****,” said Cobb. “It’s gonna happen if it continues to go the way it’s going right now. If he doesn’t trust you, he’s not gonna throw you the ball. I can promise you that. If he don’t trust you, he does not like throwing interceptions. So if he can’t trust that you’re going to run the right route, he’s not going to throw you the ball.”
"If he don't trust you, he not gonna throw you the ball."
— B/R Gridiron (@brgridiron) August 23, 2023
The funny thing is, later in the show, Cobb said that he thought when he and Rodgers walked off Lambeau Field for the final time, that was it. He thought Rodgers was going to retire and considered doing so himself. But here he is for one last go-round in New Jersey.
As we already mentioned, this episode of Hard Knocks felt a lot more personable. Cobb was shown at a playground with his wife and two sons when he shared with the rest of the “Cobb Mob” that their mother was pregnant with the couple’s third child. Before bed, the couple and their two sons form a pile of hands and do a “Cobb Mob.” There are four hands currently in the pile, but Cobb revealed that there will be another hand real soon, much to his kids’ excitement.
happy birthday @rcobb18!!
very nice of you to share your present with the rest of the Cobb Mob ?? pic.twitter.com/PmKKVJHaNt
— New York Jets (@nyjets) August 22, 2023
It was these types of moments, the ones that make the athletes more human, that make Hard Knocks what it is.
While Hard Knocks executive producer Ken Rodgers recently told Rich Eisen that the series had plenty of footage of Dalvin Cook’s free agency visit, the third episode didn’t touch on any of his time at the team facility. While they didn’t completely gloss over Cook’s addition, they didn’t go into detail about what went into his decision. They showed Cook arriving to sign his contract and Aaron Rodgers chatting with his new teammate. As mentioned by SNY’s Connor Hughes, this was likely the Jets doing, as the team has the final say on what HBO/NFL Films can and cannot show.
So, this episode offered an interesting balance of what Hard Knocks was and was not able to show. Check back next week for the review of Episode 4.