A few seconds into the season premiere of HBO’s “Hard Knocks,” Oakland Raiders coach Jon Gruden delivered exactly what everyone was looking for.
Gruden had the team gathered together, and he talked about how some players around him might have dreams of making the NFL, making the Pro Bowl or winning a Super Bowl. It’s a good thing there was a TV-MA tag for mature audiences before the show started.
“I’m really not into dreams anymore. I’m into f------ nightmares,” Gruden said. “You guys with me on that? You’ve got to end somebody’s dream. You’ve got to take their jobs. You’ve got to take their heart. Are you guys clear about this NFL s--- now? We’re not trying to go to the Peach Bowl, we’re not trying to go to the Gator Bowl, or the Bluebonnet Bowl. We’re trying to go to the Super Bowl.”
The first episode of the Raiders’ season, one of the more anticipated “Hard Knocks” seasons in recent years because of the team’s intriguing personalities, didn’t disappoint. Gruden was front and center. Derek Carr and Antonio Brown got plenty of air time. Defensive tackle Ronald Ollie, from the Netflix show “Last Chance U,” was a big part of the first episode. Ollie getting cut after getting hurt and missing a training session drilled home the realities of being on the roster bubble in the NFL. Celebrity chef Guy Fieri and rapper G-Eazy made appearances.
Even though the Raiders were 4-12 last season, they’re starting fresh like everyone else, hoping for better results in Gruden’s second Raiders season.
“We have a chance to be a hell of a big story this year, men,” Gruden said during a team meeting. “We want to win and we want to win now.”
Antonio Brown’s feet were an issue
The big question with the Raiders is what’s going on with Brown, and his injured feet that have kept him out of practice. Former NFL quarterback Chris Simms of NBC Sports said Brown had frostbitten feet from a cryotherapy machine, and that rumor wasn’t addressed on “Hard Knocks.”
But Brown’s issues with his feet were the first scene of the opening episode, after Gruden’s rant. Brown ran gingerly as he was worked out by Alex Whitehair, his personal trainer.
“I’m just like everyone else fighting to make the team,” Brown said. “Take a couple days to get right, but fired up to show Raider Nation what I’m about.”
Brown has been out of practice this week, and “Hard Knocks” didn’t give us many answers as to what’s going on or what caused it. The fact that we have to wait another week, at least, for something more substantial on Brown in the show than him limping around camp was a bummer. But at least we got a funny and adorable back-and-forth between Brown and his young son.
“Where’s Roethlisberger? Where’s Roethlisberger?” Brown’s son asked.
“He plays with the Steelers. Our quarterback is Derek now,” Brown said. “We don’t play with Roethlisberger no more. We play with the Raiders now.”
The Raiders should be entertaining
There’s still plenty of potential ground for HBO to cover the rest of the season. Controversial linebacker Vontaze Burfict didn’t get much air time. Guard Richie Incognito is another controversial addition, and we started to get a bit from him at the end of the first episode. We’ll see if HBO gets much access to the two players over the rest of “Hard Knocks.” Brown’s injury, the explanation for it and whether the Raiders start to get frustrated with their new star is worth watching in coming weeks. Near the end of the first episode, Gruden appeared impatient when talking to head athletic trainer Rod Martin about what Brown could do in practice.
Rookie safety Johnathan Abram, a first-round pick, will likely be a star of the season. He got in a testy exchange with Gruden for hitting his teammates when they weren’t in pads. He had no problem speaking up to Carr at a dinner, mentioning how much the quarterback’s contract is worth, and having a long conversation over how to pronounce “salmon.”
“I’m from the country,” Abram said while debating how to pronounce “salmon.”
The first episode this season might not have been rollocking and explosive, but it was interesting. “Hard Knocks” looks like it should be a winner again.
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