When the New York Jets embarked on the journey that has been this season of Hard Knocks, we were informed that HBO/NFL Films would not be getting the same kind of access as usual. That has varied from episode to episode, but the Jets were hellbent on not showing one thing in particular: Players getting cut. The organization felt that this raw moment that could spell the end of a football player’s dreams shouldn’t be for public consumption.
While Episode 4 tackled the idea that the roster wouldn’t go from 90 to 53 with the snap of a finger, the audience was keyed into what was at stake. The average fan probably didn’t know that players like Jerome Kapp and Tanzel Smart were among the team’s final roster cuts before Tuesday’s episode airing at 10 p.m. ET. HBO/Films ultimately couldn’t put a lid on this news surfacing, as Tuesday’s deadline was six hours prior. So, while it may have been anti-climatic for those rooting for underdogs like Smart and Kapp to make the roster, there was still an important story to be told about bubble players being up against it.
This episode of Hard Knocks did an excellent job of showing the two sides of the coin. There’s the business side. There’s also a uniquely human element to it. HBO/NFL Films took us into Smart’s home, as he hosted fellow defensive lineman Solomon Thomas, Quinnen Williams, and John Franklin-Myers and served them up a crawfish dish using his grandmother’s original recipe. He also made a charcuterie board while wearing an “I want to eat a car-coochie board T-shirt.”
The seven-year veteran, unfortunately, did not make the initial 53-man roster. Smart injured his shoulder in the team’s final preseason game against the New York Giants. He was visibly frustrated and emotional, knowing he could not afford to get hurt with his roster spot in jeopardy. After going for X-rays on his injured shoulder, Smart returned and left everything he had on the field at MetLife Stadium. But for whatever reason, it wasn’t enough. He, his wife, and his young daughter became easy to root for as HBO/NFL Films featured the trio in Episode 3 and continued to do so in Episode 4. This can be a cruel game, and despite his charm and strong showing in training camp, it wasn’t enough to break camp with the Jets.
A day after being released, the Jets are reportedly signing Smart to their practice squad.
— uSTADIUM App (@uSTADIUM) August 30, 2023
Smart wasn’t the only one met with a dose of reality. Jerome Kapp, an undrafted free agent out of Kutztown, who brought down the house and became an overnight sensation for his rendition of an 8-mile freestyle, was cut nearly 24 hours after Gang Green’s 32-24 win.
Kapp had a strong showing, making some key blocks at the wide receiver position, but it wasn’t enough to make the team. Perhaps he’ll be welcomed back on New York’s practice squad, but the uncertainty he faced leaving the Jets’ facility in Florham Park is the level of drama that HBO/NFL Films is so good at capturing. Again, there was a familial aspect here, as we saw Kapp’s family in the stands for the final preseason game. They also attended the team’s second preseason game against the Carolina Panthers. But not everything can have a happy ending, and we were left with the lasting image of Kapp arriving at the team facility, gathering his belongings, and placing a trash bag full of his things in his car before heading off. His future is unknown, but he did create a top-5 Hard Knocks moment.
It was a different outcome for undrafted free agent wide receivers Jason Brownlee and Xavier Gipson. The pair of receivers met at the NFLPA Bowl and have become close friends ever since. The two pushed one another day in and day out and made the 53-man roster. Throughout the episode, coaches and teammates, including Aaron Rodgers and Randall Cobb, were enamored with the potential of both receivers, which may play a significant role in the 2023 NFL season.
Speaking of Rodgers, his trash-talking a New York Giants outside linebacker may have been the episode’s highlight.
.@AaronRodgers12 said there would be some good trash talk in Hard Knocks.
He was right. pic.twitter.com/zaCX5fEglf
— New York Jets (@nyjets) August 30, 2023
During the first quarter of Saturday’s preseason game, Rodgers took exception to a late hit from Giants outside linebacker Jihad Ward.
“That’s f******* bull**** bro,” Rodgers said. “What the **** is that? Show some respect, bro. C’mon, what the **** is that? Five damn steps? I don’t even know who you are, bro.”
One play later, Rodgers threw a touchdown to Garrett Wilson.
?AARON RODGERS 1st JETS TD?
— NFL (@NFL) August 26, 2023
Naturally, he let Ward know about it.
Rodgers told him not to poke the bear before reminding him he had never heard of him.
“I gave him a line that’s un-come-back-with-able,” a mic’d-up Rodgers said afterward. “I said, ‘I don’t even know who you are.’ He said, ‘I don’t know who you are.’ I said, ‘B*******.'”
While that was arguably the best highlight from the show, perhaps the one below was the best segment that came from Tuesday’s episode.
— KaizerRev (@Kaizerrev) August 30, 2023
Hard Knocks worked HBO’s famed The Sopranos into Tuesday’s episode as a tribute to the late James Gandolfini, a die-hard New York Jets fan. In fact, former Jets coach Eric Mangini was featured in the penultimate episode of The Sopranos. So, it was only fitting that the Sopranos theme song (“Woke Up This Morning” by Alabama 3) played as coach Robert Saleh drove to MetLife Stadium for this past Saturday’s preseason game against the Giants.
Check back next week for the review of Episode 5.