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Hard Knocks Episode 3: Doug Martin Steps into the Spotlight

Doug Martin gets some shine, Jameis Winston shows his leadership and Dirk Koetter finds his voice.

Following last week’s Hard Knocks: Training Camp With The Tampa Bay Buccaneers episode which chronicled the events leading up to kicker Roberto Aguayo’s release, the third episode took on the stories of a few new characters, both established starters and fringe players.

Most notably, Bucs RB Doug Martin saw a chunk of airtime after only having tangential appearances on the first two episodes. (Though who can forget his job of “sweeping” the rookies off the stage during rookie performances in the first episode?) The opening minutes showed him riding around his house on an electric skateboard—I can’t help but wonder if his contract includes a clause about dangerous activities—and the cameras were focused on him throughout practice this week, giving the show some time to talk about his current situation.

Martin, who will be serving a three-game suspension at the start of this season for violating the NFL’s drug policy last season, spoke openly about how he “went through a journey last year,” hitting some serious low points while in rehab. But the episode reiterated how the running back, entering his sixth year in the league, all with the Bucs, is a changed man—and one young fan even told Martin that he drafted him on one of his fantasy teams this season. No, he didn’t say if he was his RB1 or RB3, but either way, that’s showing some faith in the Tampa Bay running back.

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On the other end of the job-security spectrum, this episode closely followed Maurice Fleming, an undrafted free agent defensive back who is clinging to his roster spot. With Brent Grimes still out after suffering that gnarly laceration to his shin last week, Fleming had the opportunity to show what he’s made of. One of the opening scenes showed Fleming at the Bucs’ facility early, running ladders as the sun rose.

In the second preseason game, Fleming made a handful of crucial plays, but he suffered a knee injury. While he played through it, it was obvious that he knew it had the potential to end his training camp. Grimes offered up encouraging words on the sidelines, but they appeared to hardly penetrate the a visibly downtrodden Fleming.

Fleming went straight in to get an MRI the morning after the game, and Hard Knocks did a brilliant job of showing the stress and anguish that Fleming was feeling while he waited for results—which weren’t great. In a gut-wrenching twist at the end of the episode, Koetter told Fleming that they were placing him on waivers in order to give him time to recover. No doubt, this is one of the hardest parts of the business.

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Seriously though, has HBO considered changing the name of this season to Hard Knocks: Training Camp with Jameis Winston (and occasionally the Tampa Bay Buccaneers)? The consistent attention on Winston during the episodes only hammers home just how important he is to this team’s culture. From his ability to keep it loose on the practice field to his motivational speeches (poems?) in the locker room, Winston is truly the heart of this team. The scene of Winston, DeSean Jackson and rookie Jeremy McNichols going over the playbook in a hotel room (were they roommates in Jacksonville?) exemplifies how both rookies and veterans alike look up to and respect the quarterback.

Dirk Koetter is finding his voice. The first two episodes portrayed Koetter as being a quieter and somewhat cliche coach, but this episode really showed off Koetter’s motivational voice. Throughout the practice scenes, Koetter was constantly yelling at the players, berating the offense for being slow, telling them to check their playbooks and know the plays.

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One of the best moments of the episode came after Winston threw that bone-headed interception in Tampa Bay’s preseason game in Jacksonville, and Koetter laid it on him:

“You f****** sh***** me? Why you got to do that? Jameis, you’re playing a great game and then your greed takes over. You’re so much better than that. ... You can’t do that, ever, ever, ever.”

The Bucs’ defense is going to be good. OK, it’s possible we were viewing this practice through Jaguars’ lenses, but between Gerald McCoy and Chris Baker up front and Kwon Alexander and Noah Spence on the edges, the Tampa Bay defense consistently mowed over Jacksonville during the teams’ joint practices.

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Speaking of the Bucs’ defense, McCoy is an A+ teammate. McCoy continues to be a star human being on this show. Aside from his top-notch performance on the field, both in practice and in the preseason game, McCoy rented food trucks—wings, ribs and snow cones—to come for a team lunch while in Jacksonville. McCoy said it best himself: “Who doesn’t want a snow cone?”

Status of the Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson relationship. Still fake, I think. There was much less forced interaction between the Bucs’ two starting wide receivers this episode, which only reinforces my theory that they are not actually friends. There’s no denying, however, that they’re a force to reckon with on the field.

Also, what number does DJax wear? From what I can tell, he wears No. 1 in practice but No. 11 in games. C’mon man, decide what you want, one or two digits!

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Hello there, Jon Gruden and Rex Ryan. Before the Bucs’ second preseason game against the Jaguars, a handful of starters, including Winston and Evans, took time to meet with former NFL coaches and current ESPN employees Jon Gruden and Rex Ryan. Both Gruden and Ryan opened up about how highly they think of Winston as a player (“I got my three kids wearing Jameis Winston jerseys,” Gruden said), but freely offered up criticisms of him, as well—namely, his struggle with turnovers and ball security. 

Also, special shoutout to Evans and his shirt that said “Say No To Gluten” on it.

Is the Bucs’ kicker battle really over?! In true Tampa Bay form, Nick Folk had an extra point blocked and missed a 47-yard field-goal attempt against the Jaguars. For a team that’s already spent far too much time thinking about their kickers this preseason, that must have been unsettling to see.

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Some additional weird moments:

• Rookie QB Sefo Liufau somehow brought up the topic of rescuing goats, and Winston literally could not believe what he was hearing.

• Chris Baker got up close and personal with a palm tree during the team’s food-truck lunch sponsored by McCoy.

• Winston singing part of “What Does the Fox Say” during the preseason game was ... special.

• McCoy enjoyed a hot dog on the sidelines during the second half of the preseason game, and thoroughly mocked Chris Baker when the DT wandered over upon getting a whiff. “You’re so fat. You gotta be the fattest dude I know,” McCoy told his teammate.

• No Game Of Thrones-themed ending this time, instead replaced by Donteea Dye viewing the solar eclipse (despite the fact that Florida was way out of the path of totality. “Does this happen like once a year? What’s the thing that comes every few years? Cicadas?”