Thursday, August 9, 2018

‘Knocks’ thoughts

 Full disclosure: Not a fan of HBO’s Hard Knocks. Don’t watch it.

Not a fan of reality television. I believe that form of television was born due to lack of creativity in the show business world. Its popularity is undeniable, though.

I would have continued to shun Hard Knocks had HBO not chosen the Browns as this season’s team. But since they did, I was compelled to watch.

The slickness of the presentation and production value has not surprised. HBO has always done an exceptional job in those departments over the years and Hard Knocks With the Cleveland Browns is no exception after one episode.

The reason I have avoided Knocks is I don’t really want to know what is going on with other National Football League teams. I care only about the Browns. And I looked forward to the network’s unfettered access uncovering the inner workings of this moribund franchise, which is currently in turnaround mode,

In no particular order, some thoughts after the premiere episode of the five-part series the other night:

* Linebacker Christian Kirksey is a very good drummer in addition to being one of the inspirational leaders on the team.

* Wide receiver Jarvis Landry hates losing. He gets what it’s like to be a professional athlete and punctuated it with a wide receivers dress down.

* Defensive end Carl Nassib should be a college professor teaching economics and finance.

* Head coach Hue Jackson is in charge. I mean really in charge of this football team.

* HBO crossed an emotional line dealing with a double tragedy in Jackson’s life.

* The HBO cameras zeroed in on rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield a lot early on, which probably means he will be followed closely throughout the series with regard to his transitioning to the NFL.

* Defensive end Myles Garrett picked up valuable tips from former Cleveland (for three seasons) and New England (for 12 seasons) linebacker Willie McGinest, who works now for the NFL Network.

In a team meeting, Kirksey stood up and in a way canvassed his teammates to determine exactly why they were in that room. Why were they professional football players?

He basically said to grab a piece of paper and jot down the reason or reasons why. Was it for family? Was it for the money? Or was it for the love of the game?

Write it down and place on the bed next to you before you go to bed, he said. Make it the first thing you see before you wake up and the last thing you see before going to sleep. Give what you are doing a reason to motivate yourself to become the best you can be.

That’s leadership.

The fifth-year outside linebacker proved he can do it on the field and now has asserted that leadership quality off the field. Coaches love stuff like that because it makes their jobs easier.

Landry motivates in a different manner. The uber confident wide receiver is much more vocal, at least in the wide receivers room.

After a dull and listless early workout at the start of training camp, especially by the wideouts, some of whom did not participate due to injuries, Landry lit into them with a profanity-laced, 105-second diatribe that went viral on the Internet.

He essentially chided them that if they were vertical and could breathe, there were no reasons they should not have been on the field displaying their wares. Halfway through, position coach Adam Henry enthusiastically nodded his head in approval.

Again, that’s leadership of a different sort. But it told the television audience that Landry gets it. His understanding of his role on the Browns is what motivates him. All he was trying to do was attempt to instill some of it elsewhere in that room.

Speaking of sharing, Nassib schooled his defensive line teammates on understanding how to handle the money they earn for playing a game, zeroing in on compound interest. He did so in the simplest of terms.

If Nassib has a brief career in the NFL (and right now, he might be on the bubble to make the final roster), it’s safe to say he should have no trouble finding work in the financial field.

Jackson, meanwhile, made it perfectly clear to his coaching staff – two of whom have been head coaches in the NFL – that he was firmly in charge when the problem of occasionally resting players came up.

Offensive coordinator Todd Haley, one of those ex-head coaches, spoke up when the subject was broached. “Our team has to get mentally tougher,” he said, “and fight through this.”

Jackson stopped Haley – and running backs coach Freddie Kitchens, who initiated the topic – with a gentle rebuke.

“I used to sit in the chair you’re in now,” he began. “The chair I sit in now is a little different than the chair you guys sit in. I get to watch from a different lens. I think you guys can all respect that.”

As Jackson spoke, Haley appeared to sulk and sank back into his chair, removing his little hat.

“At the end of the day,” Jackson continued, “I get to drive this bus. I’m going to get it the way I want it. That’s just how it works, okay? Do it the way you want (if you were in charge). This team is mine. That’s the way it’s going to be. Anything else?”

Two thoughts: Jackson either gained respect with that little speech or pissed off Haley, the coach brought in to right an offense coordinated by Jackson the last two seasons that was abysmally awful. Time will tell on this one.

Jackson was also dealing with the loss of his brother and mother within weeks of each other. It was surprising that HBO was permitted to peer into the coach’s private life at a time of grieving.

After accepting condolences from General Manager John Dorsey and two members of the front office in a brief private meeting, Jackson and the HBO cameras were left alone as he grieved for his losses. At times like that, one would think privacy should have been respectfully in order.

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