Great timing for Hard Knocks
The timing of the Browns accepting HBO’s invitation to appear on this year’s Hard Knocks is exquisite.
Imagine the embarrassment and what would have eventuated had the Browns acceded to the cable network’s wishes a year ago.
Yep. The first winless season for what used to be one of the proudest National Football League franchises before the league bafflingly allowed it to move to Baltimore.
The embarrassment lingers like a bad dream. It should never be forgotten. And welcoming HBO is the right thing to do at this point. It is time.
And why is that?
These are not your Cleveland Browns of the last 19 seasons. Far from it. The losing stench that has permeated this dysfunctional franchise for nearly a generation is about to disappear due mainly to massive roster surgery by General Manager John Dorsey.
Who are these guys? This doesn’t look much like the football team that made the wrong kind of history last season. Crawling into Dorsey’s mind will unlock some of the mystery of all the off-season moves.
It all comes along at a time when the Browns need a bright, shiny new coat of Seal Brown and Orange to erase the notion the words Cleveland Browns mean loser, bad football, embarrassing football.
It is a chance for them to show the nation what a comeback really looks like. The spotlight will shine brightly on many position battles.
The culture is changing in Cleveland with regard to its pro football team and after considerable thought, Dorsey felt comfortable with allowing the nation to see it through the HBO lenses as the curtains in Berea are peeled back for the reality series.
There is actually real, honest-to-goodness hope the light at the end of the tunnel for the first time in a long time is not the locomotive of the proverbial oncoming train.
There are too may good stories to ignore for the weekly five-week series, not the least of which is the feel-good yarn of a franchise picking itself up off the scrap heap and charting a new and improved direction with a multitude of new faces.
At the same time, the great fans of the Browns will finally, through the unfettered access HBO has gleaned, get a chance to see the inner workings of their beloved franchise, off the field as well as on.
The network will, of course, dwell heavily on the players from a personal and professional viewpoint for the six weeks that stretch from the opening of training camp to the final exhibition game.
The Emmy Award winning series, now in its 13th season, will film tens – maybe hundreds – of thousands of feet for the five-episode run-up to the 2018 NFL season. And there is no end to the terrific story lines the Browns can provide for HBO, starting with the aforementioned cultural turnaround.
Position battles, always a compelling part of training camp, will be among the inside looks viewers will see on an episodic basis. Count on the producers injecting some soap-opera like drama into those battles.
The cameras will love following Baker Mayfield, the club’s controversial No. 1 draft choice, constructing numerous story lines for the Heisman Trophy winner’s transition to the professional game. Homing in on his brash personality could be a daily staple for the cameras.
Another lingering story line could be Mayfield’s hopefully-muted attempt to unseat Tyrod Taylor as the club’s starting quarterback before he takes a regular-season snap. Coach Hue Jackson maintains that won’t happen, assuring the veteran he will start.
It certainly doesn’t hurt when Taylor says, “I came here to win football games.” If nothing else, he ingratiates himself to fans of the club who love hearing boastful talk like that.
Look for talkative wide receivers Josh Gordon and Jarvis Landry to put their talents and loquacious personalities on display. On defense, there is the garrulous Myles Garrett, who is as fascinating off the field as he is on. The fact he is the key to an improved pass rush will not go unnoticed.
Then there’s Jackson, who never runs away from a camera and microphone. The story line for the head coach is obvious. It will be interesting to see him attempt to slither out of the notion he is arguably not only the worst head coach in Browns history, but maybe the worst in the history of the NFL.
Cameras will also zoom in on Jackson’s coordinators, neither of whom can be classified as shy. Gregg Williams on defense and Todd Haley on offense are vocal and impressively direct with the men they coach. If it’s on their minds, it’s on their lips.
To round out the presentation, producers will also delve into the personal lives of several Browns, veterans and rookies alike.
Cameras will eavesdrop on the brain trust of the team in their ivory tower. Dorsey’s reconstruction of the roster is certain to catch the attention of those in charge at HBO. And it will be interesting to see how and his aides handle the delicate chore of paring the roster.
And then there’s the boss. Or should I say bosses. Count on Jimmy Haslam III and his wife, Dee, to play a somewhat prominent role in this real-time drama. If the producers don’t address why Haslam retained a coach who is 1-31 in his two seasons in Cleveland, that’s a dereliction of journalistic duty.
As for the positional competition, there is no end of good series HBO can explore. For example . . .
Can Taylor stave off what most observers expect will be a strong challenge from Mayfield? Who will partner with rookie Denzel Ward at cornerback? Can rookie running back Nick Chubb step right in and reduce Carlos Hyde’s role? Will Shon Coleman fend off rookie Austin Barnett’s challenge at left offensive tackle? Or will Barnett move right in and take over? Is strong safety Jabrill Peppers’ final landing spot? And who will return punts and kickoffs
The scenarios are endless for the cable network, which should boast terrific ratings because the fiercely-loyal Browns fans are renown for spurring strong television sports ratings. The series very well could wind up as the most watched Hard Knocks ever.
In the end, what do the Browns have to lose by finally acquiescing to HBO’s wishes?