The NFL season is less than a month away, which means everyone's favorite training camp reality show Hard Knocks is upon us for its 11th season. This year the honor of taped practices and some (possibly scripted) encounters between team members has been bestowed upon the Rams, because the NFL is hoping that a move back to Los Angeles actually makes Jeff Fisher and his perennially mediocre team semi-interesting. Will they be? Maybe! (Though Hard Knocks veteran Damien Woody decidedly does not think so.)
Sure, Jeff Fisher is not going to tell his team to "go get a g--damn snack" and unlike last season, there's no J.J. Watt around to lift a half-ton tire and then get called a certain profane nickname by Pierre Garcon, but we did get to witness Aaron Donald playing ping pong and Jared Goff not understanding where the sun rises, so all hope is not lost. Some other things to know in case you missed Tuesday night’s premiere:
The Rams are back in Los Angeles, and don’t you forget it!
“Gotta have sunglasses in California.” –Jeff Fisher
Approximately 60% of this episode is spent on closeups of the sun, palm trees and crashing waves because you better believe we’re not in St. Louis anymore! A few other ways the first ten minutes of the show reminded you of that fact:
--The opening scene is a Good Year blimp carrying Jared Goff and fellow rookie Pharoh Cooper that says “WELCOME, LOS ANGELES RAMS,” which then bleeds right into the opening credits, a sequence made up of Rams players on the practice field juxtaposed with sunglass-laden women on the beach, because we are definitely. in. CALIFORNIA!
-- The next scene is Jeff Fisher fishing with his son in peaceful Montana, talking about how much he enjoys being in Montana, a place he insightfully describes Los Angeles as “the polar opposite of.”
-- Then comes the expected and overly dramatic montage of the team’s actual move to California, complete with a sign on an office in St. Louis that says “Out of office, will not return,” (oof, this is not exactly going to make St. Louis fans feel any better about this whole situation), a moving truck driving in slow motion, and Case Keenum and his wife walking on a picturesque beach while the sun sets, all while Sia’s cover of "California’ Dreamin" plays in the background. This is, unsurprisingly, not the only California-themed song they use throughout the episode, because what would a show about California be without the implementation of the Red Hot Chilli Pepper’s “Californication” at some point?
Jared Goff: Good at buying fans, not so good at understanding the earth’s rotation
Goff very much gets the “goofy but lovable” edit here (or, let’s call it the “Matt Saracen edit,”) which is about right for the guy the franchise is pinning its hopes on. Current starting QB Keenum, on the other hand, got roughly two minutes of screen time (though it did include that aforementioned pretty scene on the beach with his wife!) I wasn’t sure how interesting Goff would be on camera, but his slight awkwardness and sense of humor makes him a pretty easy guy to root for early on. And the inside look at the meeting between him and quarterbacks coach Chris Weinke was one of the more interesting scenes of the night. "Your expectation is up here,” Weinke tells him. “I know you’re a rookie, I don’t give a f---. Everybody’s watching what you do. You can’t f------ hide…You are wired to be the starting quarterback of this football team…but that doesn’t just happen. It’s up to you. Some people can’t handle it.”
A few more things we learn about the first overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft:
-- He doesn't know that the sun rises in the east.
-- He bought the offense sixty fans upon arrival at training camp.
-- He has a crush on Taylor Swift.
Cringeworthy Scene of the Night: This could easily go to the blasé (though expected) phone call Fisher delivers to Nick Foles early on, which is comprised of roughly 15 seconds of small talk (“How’s summer? You guys stay here in Southern California?”) before Fisher, without much of a change in tone of voice, tells him “Well I’m touching base, man…we’re going to go ahead and release you today.” But you can’t see Foles, so it’s not as bad as a later scene, when wide receiver Deon Long gets cut for having a female in his dorm room. “I never had no intentions of her chillin’,” he attempts to explain to Fisher, but the closeup on his face as Fisher tells him he’s going to cut him is still pretty jarring.
Player of the Night: Center Eric Kush, (or, alternatively, Tank Top Man: “The most important part about training camp? Tank tops!” We also learn Kush has one of those American flag tank tops, which he lovingly describes as one that “You just throw on and then rip it off for America.”
Coach of the Night: Tie between quarterbacks coach Chris Weinke and defensive line coach Mike Waufel. Weinke wins this category for the comic relief, calling Goff out for not knowing that the sun does indeed rise in the east and set in the west. But by pure intimidation standards, it’s all Waufle, a former marine who seems very serious when he says “We destroy things. We’re going to blow the NFL up.”
Celebrity Appearances: We’re in L.A., (or, technically Irvine), remember? That means famous people! This episode, we’ve got Kendrick Lamar and ScHoolboy Q., Lakers coach Luke Walton and Rams legend Rosey Grier. And a Taylor Swift shoutout, (or “T-Swizzle, as offensive coordinator Rob Boras refers to her as), of course.
More quick notes:
-- Aaron Donald gets the hero/true star intro (and a segment devoted to his ping pong skills). Narrator Liev Schreiber calls Donald “the best player you’ve never heard of,” though I sincerely hope that if you’re spending an hour of your life watching Hard Knocks, you’ve heard of Aaron Donald.
-- Stedman Bailey makes a very brief appearance, but I think it’d be intriguing to focus a bit more on his recovery progress going forward.
-- Other team activities: Some rookies go surfing, some other rookies ride a blimp and Tavon Austin plays Pokemon Go.
Quote of the night:
“Hey. Where the rest of the cake at, though?” –Todd Gurley, after getting cake smashed into his face for his birthday.
Wisdom of the Week: “The important thing about training camp is bringing enough socks that you don’t have to wash them. You just keep grabbing a new pair.” –Training camp wardrobe extraordinaire Eric Kush. A good tip for all walks of life, really.