Hard Knocks, Episode 4: Why everybody loves (and dreads) Rock Gullickson
- Rock Gullickson, the Rams' strength and conditioning coach, plays an unexpected role as Jeff Fisher begins to hand out player cuts.
It has been a particularly exhausting week of NFL news, and based on the endless stream of takes we’ve gotten over the last four days, I was nearly expecting the fourth episode of Hard Knocks to feature members of the Rams giving two-minute confessionals on how they feel about Colin Kaepernick. Luckily for all of us, it was not that. It was, however, Part 1 of cut week.
The undisputed star of the episode was 70-year-old strength and conditioning coach Rock Gullickson, who everybody seems to adore. He talks about his time coaching Brett Favre (Favre mentioned him in his Hall of Fame speech), and when he’s not around, players are seen on the sidelines asking where he is. As a reward for forming genuine bonds and connections with the players, he takes on the unfortunate role of messenger for Jeff Fisher, informing players that the head coach wants to see them in his office.
The tension-filled episode builds up to the ending, when Gullickson begins pulling aside guys while they’re working out in the weight room. This allows viewers to get an honest look at not just the players’ faces as the realization sinks in and not just Gullickson’s face as he scans the room trying to find the right guys, but also the faces of their on-the-bubble teammates, like Austin Hill and Eric Kush, whose eyes follow every step Gullickson takes. At one point, Kush slowly approaches Gullickson, shakes his hand, asks him how it’s going, waiting to see if he’ll ask him to “come with me.” After Gullickson walks right by Hill to approach a teammate, Hill is seen shaking is head in a mix of relief and utter fear. In a nice moment, Gullickson walks up to Hill and jokingly asks him “what are you always looking at me for?” But Gullickson breaks the tension as soon as he’s finished, saying “You guys are all clear. You’re all clear today. This whole group. Take a deep breath.” Hill smiles for what seems like the first time the whole episode.
These cut scenes are never fun to watch, but to Fisher’s credit, his strategy is to make it personal. He asks each player where they’re off to next and what their next step is going to be. To center Brian Folkerts, Fisher said, “In your case though I think it’s really good timing … I mean it’s never good timing to get released, but there’s a lot of people looking for interior linemen right now. Don’t get frustrated.” Rookie Zach Colvin asks him specifically whether Fisher thinks this is something he should keep pursuing, and the two have an honest conversation about his ability.
It sounds corny, but these relatable moments are what have made this show so successful for as long as it has been. Everyone has these concerns about their jobs at some point, and everyone is just trying to make it to the next day—these concepts are not esoteric. In a sport dominated by hot takes and controversy and gruesome injuries, it is refreshing to feel as though the lives of some of these players, and some of these coaches who truly care about the guys they have to cut loose, are relatable in some small way.
More notes from the fourth episode:
Brief Cut Recap: Of the 15 cut on Tuesday, 14 were undrafted free agents. Defensive end Quinton Coples (whose scene they didn’t show) is the biggest name on the list. As for who to watch for next week when it’s trimmed to 53: Ian Seau, Eric Kush, Austin Hill and Paul McRoberts are the four big ones the show has focused on. Of those, the most intriguing battle will be Hill vs. McRoberts, as only one of those receivers is likely to make it.
Tavon Austin’s Big Day: We get an inside look at Austin’s extension, which went through this week. As the deal gets closer, the coaches discuss negotiations, and say “he doesn’t have the production [of Julio Jones or other top receivers] to justify a number way up there.” He does have enough to justify four years, $42 million, which is what they agree on. Austin tears up as Fisher tells him the news, and during their preseason game against the Broncos, he goes out of his way to thank and hug Stan Kroenke on the sideline. (“Hug Stan Kroenke” can’t be a phrase that is typed all too often.)
Jared Goff Update: Busy week for the top overall pick. He botches a call in the huddle (“I said Y Right instead of Scram Right”) and gets frustrated with Kush after Kush doesn’t get the snap off in time at practice. We meet his parents, who have to watch as he struggles against the Broncos in the Rams’ third preseason game. In that game, he throws a pick that’s dropped, then makes an ill-advised slide that Keenum says “might be the worst slide I’ve ever seen,” as his parents squirm in the stands.
Goff also told an inspiring story of loyalty and friendship after a fight breaks out during practice: “I had one in college like that where I was like the first one to it and I was pulling them apart. Then I looked at the sideline and the whole defense is running out and I’m like ‘Alright, sorry buddy you’re on your own.’” Good effort, Jared.
Best Player Bonding Activity: At one point, special teams coordinator John Fassel is carried into a team meeting on a surfboard (the purpose of this is never explained, but let’s just go with it) and leads everyone in a game of Rams Jeopardy. One of the categories is “Chimichanga: A spelling contest with Mexican foods.” Goff and co. get very excited when a teammate correctly spells “tortilla.” Eugene Sims, though, does not fare quite as well when spelling fajita, (his attempt: “f-a-g-i-t-a”) nor does Greg Robinson with spelling “lasagna.” The most confusing part of this whole segment is how the ‘country of origin’ for quesadilla is listed as “Rio de Janiero.” Nobody seems to think that is weird, or, you know, incorrect, so we’ll just turn our focus to the room losing its mind when “quesadilla” is spelled correctly at the last moment.
Will Hayes Dinosaur Update A tour guide at DinoQuest tries to explain to Hayes how fossils work, and how people have been studying and finding dinosaurs “for hundreds of years.”
“That sounds absolutely ridiculous to me,” he says. He also looks at dinosaur dung and thinks it is corn.
Rielyn Hill Update: The Riley Curry of Hard Knocks, Austin Hill’s daughter (aptly named Rielyn), goes to the aquarium with her parents and looks at fish while wearing a cute pink bow in her hair. This concludes your Rielyn Hill update.
Celebrity Appearances: Jon Gruden and Ariel, world famous mermaid.
Quote of the Week: “What game are we playing? Checkers? Putt-putt golf? No! We’re playing f****** football.” – Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams (There is something inherently funny about the words “putt putt”, especially when they are directly followed by an expletive.