Through two “Hard Knocks” episodes this season, the common theme is that the Cleveland Browns are trying to change a losing culture, and it’s an uphill battle.
On the first episode of the season, the biggest moment came when new receiver Jarvis Landry scolded his teammates with colorful language about practicing through minor injuries. In the second episode, which aired Tuesday night, a lot of time was spent showing coaches trying to correct bad habits, whether it was tight end David Njoku not working enough on the JUGS machine to catch passes, players walking around on the practice field instead of hustling or Antonio Callaway getting in trouble and the organization trying to get through to him that he needs to be a professional.
Many seasons of “Hard Knocks” are very light, focusing on colorful characters near the bottom of the depth chart and funny training camp moments off the field. This season still has some humorous moments, like the “lozenges” exchange with a player and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams in the first episode and the follow-up at the end of the second episode. But more than any other season of the long-running HBO show, this seems like more of an examination of how the Browns sunk so low, after going 1-31 the past two seasons. And how they’re trying to dig out.
Hue Jackson lights into Browns for lack of effort
Landry’s speech carried the first episode. Coach Hue Jackson’s harsh speech in front of the team seemed like a continuation of that.
Jackson was angry about players walking from drill to drill during practice and he called up the team during practice.
“When the f— did we start walking around out here?” Jackson said. “When did we start all of a sudden our level becomes like this.
“I’m not watching that s— anymore. Coaches, you better get after these guys to get where they’re supposed to be, and let’s f—ing practice the way we’re supposed to practice.”
Quarterback Tyrod Taylor called Jackson over and gave him advice – yes, it was a little odd to see a quarterback telling a coach how to fix a problem like that – and said if the coach set up a camera and showed film of players loafing, it would lead to better habits. So Jackson showed the team the film and singled out players not giving effort.
“You gotta know when you look at that s— that ain’t way we practice,” Jackson said. “That’s a bunch of bulls—. That’s not a team that looks like they’re hungry and urgent in everything they do. It’s a team kind of going through the motions. I don’t want a team like that. There’s too many things we’ve been trying to correct for weeks.
“You cannot practice like this and be good. I want more. I expect more out of this room, especially out of you veteran guys. It’s a f—ing grind and sometimes you don’t want to do it. You have to learn to do it when you don’t want to do it. That’s what pro football is. It hurts. You have to compete against each other, you have to bust you’re a– and you have to be in the right spot and you have to play the f—ing game the way it’s meant to be played, or you’re wasting your time. Talent don’t mean s—. I don’t care how much talent we got. Unmotivated talent don’t do s—.”
“Changing the culture” is an easy conversation piece around losing teams. But we’re seeing on “Hard Knocks” how important and difficult it is.
“Hard Knocks” shows tense moments with Corey Coleman and Antonio Callaway
Of course, culture is also finding the right players.
At the beginning of the episode, receiver Corey Coleman was shown dropping passes and making mistakes, and he eventually went to a surprised Jackson in his office and asked why he was on the second team.
“If you don’t want want me to play, why don’t y’all just trade me?” Coleman, a former first-round pick, asked.
Coleman was traded to the Buffalo Bills for a 2020 seventh-round pick, the equivalent of an NFL team giving a player away.
The most tense moments of the second episode probably came when general manager John Dorsey and Jackson confronted rookie Callaway about being cited for marijuana possession. Callaway told Dorsey and Jackson what happened and said the “roach” in his car wasn’t his. He didn’t tell the team about the citation immediately after it happened, and given his long pre-draft history of red flags, that didn’t sit well.
“This isn’t college football. This is the National Football League,” Dorsey said. “And just to put it out there plainly, you’re under the microscope. They want to see you f— up. You have to prove to them f—ers, I’m a man. I’ve learned from my past, I’ve learned from my mistakes and we’re moving forward.”
Jackson told Callaway: “You know your history. You can’t take a chance. You can’t put yourself in that situation, and you can’t put us in that situation. Listen, you’ve got talent, but talent isn’t everything I’m looking for. I want you to become a man, responsible and accountable to John and me, this organization and your teammates. Or else I wouldn’t keep you on the team. I’m just being very honest with you.”
The next scene was Jackson bringing up Callaway to apologize in a team meeting. Near the end of the episode, during the Browns’ first preseason game, offensive coordinator Todd Haley was shown asking Landry to take Callaway under his wing and mentor him.
Browns trying to change their losing ways
There was the weird situation of the Browns coaches making Callaway play the whole first preseason game as a punishment, which was depicted on the show. Williams screamed at his defensive players on the sideline and at halftime about effort.
None of this is necessarily unique to the Browns. Coaches everywhere yell about effort, especially in the dog days of training camp when everyone is sick of hitting each other. Callaway is far from the first player to get in trouble off the field and have to own up to it to the team.
But it seems different with the Browns. Maybe It just seems different given their recent putrid history. But it’s clear that the “Hard Knocks” production team felt the inner workings of Browns coaches and certain players trying to change the Browns’ mindset was a much bigger deal than in other seasons, when lighthearted feel-good stories have been the focus.
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