The New York Jets initially may not have wanted to be the subject of this season’s “Hard Knocks,” but you’ve got to admit — they make for a pretty entertaining team to watch.
The show’s 18th season premiered on HBO Tuesday night, and predictably, the first episode centered around the Jets’ most important offseason acquisition in a long time — four-time NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers.
It makes sense. The All-Pro quarterback changing teams for the first time in his nearly 20-year career is the major talking point of the NFL offseason this year and has catapulted the Jets into being one of the most intriguing teams for the 2023 season.
There were plenty of starstruck moments in this first episode, from teammates getting to know Rodgers, to Rodgers meeting the show’s narrator.
“It’s a blessing, we have this blessing around in Aaron,” second-year wide receiver Garrett Wilson said, in how Rodgers’ addition lifts the team into contender status.
The Rodgers-Wilson relationship
Midway through the first episode, the show takes its first real look at the dynamic between Rodgers and the man he sent to the bench, Zach Wilson.
The former BYU quarterback and No. 2 overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft struggled during his first two seasons, and after a year of playing QB carousel, the Jets traded for Rodgers to bring stability and leadership to the position while trying to take advantage of a roster stocked with young talent.
Rodgers has embraced the chance to be a mentor to Wilson, and the episode showed several clips of Rodgers teaching a variety of little lessons to Wilson as they went through different drills.
“This year, it’s been kind of eye-opening to have a new look at things and some new faces in the building with Aaron,” Wilson said.
“... Obviously the last two years have been tough and I’m just trying to find my way as a quarterback. Honestly things felt like they were getting a little bit worse each week and my confidence was going down. So, not always fun.”
Jets coach Robert Saleh likes what he’s seen from Wilson in moving to the backup role.
“He’s embraced it. He’s all-in on trying to learn,” the coach said. “I feel like him showing up was successful because what he’s being asked to do is hard. To go from being the potential face of the organization to just kind of sit back a little bit and reset, it is not easy.”
Meeting the ‘Hard Knocks’ narrator
One of the more iconic elements of the “Hard Knocks” series is the show’s narrator, actor Liev Schreiber, who is affectionately known as the “voice of God” for his work with the show.
Schreiber made his first appearance in the show Tuesday in dramatic fashion, landing near the team’s practice facility in a helicopter.
“Full disclosure: I wanted to drive, but the producers thought a helicopter might be more dramatic,” Schreiber quipped.
Rodgers clearly was excited to meet the voice behind the show.
“I’ve been a fan of yours forever,” Rodgers told Schreiber.
The episode then shows the quarterback trying to get his teammates to introduce themselves to the narrator.
“You guys didn’t say hi? Go say hi!” Rodgers tells his fellow quarterbacks. “He’s the guy that narrates ‘Hard Knocks.’”
Rodgers and Schreiber even talk about why the Jets were hesitant in being the subject of this year’s show.
“I think people are worried about it being a distraction,” Rodgers told him. “There’s a lot of misnomers about it. I’ve had a great experience.”
Zach Wilson moments from the Hall of Fame Game
The show also took a look at the fun side between Rodgers and Wilson when it chronicled the Jets playing the Cleveland Browns during the Hall of Fame Game, which kicked off the NFL preseason.
Wilson got the start, with Rodgers, like many other veterans, sitting out the game.
During warmups, Saleh commented to Rodgers that Wilson’s “guns,” or biceps, looked “fantastic” with his sleeves rolled up underneath his jersey.
Rodgers told Saleh that Wilson asked Rodgers how much he could pay the starting QB to wear elastic armbands. Rodgers quipped that Wilson doesn’t have enough money in the bank to make it happen.
After a little bit more back and forth between Saleh and Rodgers, Wilson said, “The guy in front of me has nothing to show off, so I might as well let them go,” taking a playful jab at Rodgers.
Like the above interaction, another video that circulated on social media prior to the episode being aired came when Rodgers dialed up Wilson’s most successful pass of the game — a 57-yard long bomb to Malik Taylor.
With the Jets backed up near their end zone on their second possession, Rodgers said into the headset, “Throw it up to Malik.”
The perfectly placed pass elicited strong positive responses from both the Jets sideline and announcers that were used as voiceovers on clips of the play.
“That was a dime and a half,” Wilson said as he ran downfield after the throw.
Also, breaking news: Wilson eats Uncrustables at halftime.
— NFL (@NFL) August 7, 2023
“Whatever they said about Aaron Rodgers on TV is a lie.” — Jets defensive tackle Al Woods.
“I honestly thought they’d all be bigger. It’s kind of comforting.” — Schreiber, while watching Jets practice.
“What a throw that was. That’s beautiful.” — Saleh, with his voice breaking a bit as he watched Rodgers throw in practice.
Setting the scene for the ‘Hard Knocks’ season
With a 120-person production crew on hand, you’d expect plenty of jaw-dropping visuals, among them watching the zip Rodgers can still put on the ball at the age of 39.
The best shot, though, came near the start of the episode.
Immediately following the show’s theme song, the episode transported the viewers into what it must feel like for stars to meet an adoring crowd.
Rodgers exited the Jets’ training facility and asked the production crew, “You guys got me good, or do you have to …? You good?” asking whether they can hear his mic.
From there, the camera followed Rodgers as he made his way over to the practice field, and as he got closer, the crowd noise began to rise. Individual fans can be heard chanting his name and sharing words of encouragement, before the noise enveloped into one loud cheer.
It gave you a sense of just how thrilled this fan base is to have their new QB — and a new hope in New York City — on board.
How to watch ‘Hard Knocks’
The 18th season of “Hard Knocks” premiered Tuesday night with a one-hour episode.
New episodes are released each Tuesday at 8 p.m. MDT, leading up to the season finale on Sept. 5. There will be five episodes in total.
HBO subscribers can watch episodes live on the channel. Those who are subscribed to HBO’s streaming service, Max, can also watch it live or find it to stream after 8 p.m. each Tuesday.