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Hard Knocks, Episode 4: The Cuts Are Looming For Fringe Players

Players still looking to solidify a roster spot on the Buccaneers struggle to make an impression, while Jamies Winston gets down to 90s jams and Gerald McCoy keeps his teammates going.

It’s Episode Four of Hard Knocks: Training With The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and that means one thing—cuts are looming (but, spoiler alert, none during this episode). This week, the show focuses on a handful of players balancing on the edge of the team—Chris Godwin, Riley Bullough, Donteea Dye and Jeremy McNichols, to name a few—and the fan favorites.

WR Chris Godwin, a third-round draft pick out of Penn State, has been doing well throughout training camp, and Bucs GM Jason Licht took note of not only his performance on the field but also his maturity off it (something that Penn State coach James Franklin has commented on as well). But even as a draft pick, Godwin isn’t safe.

RB Jeremy McNichols, also a 2017 NFL draft pick, is fighting for a spot in the Bucs’ very crowded RB corps, and not everything is quite peachy for him. QB Jameis Winston called out McNichols last week for hitting his spots slowly and struggling with speed, and it seems that it’s still an issue this week. It’s clear that the rookie is putting in an enormous amount of effort, and coaches are applauding his smoothness, but it’s just not quite coming together on the field (... and HBO emphasizes that exact point with a montage of shots of him constantly being stopped). After messing up a play and missing the handoff during the Week 3 preseason game, RB Peyton Barber tells McNichols that he messed up that same play as well. I guess that’s a good sign for McNichols, since Barber hasn’t been released from the team yet.

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Bullough has been a central character on Hard Knocks since the beginning, when we learned of his ‘Joe Dirt’ nickname. As one coach pointed out during a meeting, Bullough has everything you want in a player—communicates well, aggressive on the field, strong technique—except for speed. Unfortunately for the Michigan State grad, who has familial roots in the NFL, that might be the difference for him when it comes to making the team.

You may remember Dye as the guy who watched the eclipse (and asked about cicadas) from last episode. Dye suffered a bone bruise early in training camp, which put him at a disadvantage by not being able to practice. But with both Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson sitting out of the third preseason game against the Browns, all eyes were on Dye. Was his performance enough to make the team? All coming up next week... (or not?)

A few more takeaways from Episode 4 of Hard Knocks:

This Is How We Do It: This episode opened up with arguably my favorite montage yet (and there’s been a lot...): everyone on the practice field singing along to classic 90's jam “This Is How We Do It.” Chris Baker, Gerald McCoy and Noah Spence are all bopping along on the bench with Licht’s son, who’s made an appearance on Hard Knocks before. Winston seems to know all of the words, and he impressively throws in (makes up?) a few Bucs-related lyrics. This was definitely planned, I’m convinced.

Gerald McCoy is a No. 1 human. Being one of the leaders of the team, this week’s episode shows McCoy spending time pumping up some of the fringe players. After Godwin had a frustrating practice, McCoy reminded him to celebrate every good day and every good play, because that’s what makes the bad ones worth it. With the inevitable cuts looming and players feeling the pressure, there’s also a sense of camaraderie among teammates.

Also, McCoy’s dance party with a young fan who was watching practice was one of the best things you or I will see all week:

All Jameis, all the time: The series continues to focus on Winston as the lifeblood of this team, and that didn’t let up in this episode. The narrator pointed out that of the keys to leadership is to know when to clown and know when to be serious, and Jameis walks that line very well. One moment, he’s joking around with his coaches, and the next, he’s focusing his teammates in the huddle. During one scene in Licht’s office, the assistant general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Julien Brisebois, was visiting, and Licht couldn’t stop talking about his quarterback. “He inspires me!” Licht reiterated.

Viewers are introduced to a new side of Jameis when cameras invade his home and introduce us to his girlfriend, Breion Allen, and his dog Tootsie. To me, Allen feels like the perfect partner for Jameis; she’s athletic and witty, and her calm demeanor perfectly complements Jameis’s "Chatty-Cathy" nature. Allen explained that the two went to high school together, and that Winston just walked up and started talking to her while she was trying to spectate a basketball game:

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“I came up to her, and I was like ‘You’re pretty!’” Winston said.

“That’s not what he said ... Do you see how much he’s talking? I was trying to watch a basketball game,” Allen said.

Also, his current house stands out in stark contrast to the house where he grew up, which we saw on the first episode. In Tampa, Winston has the works—pop-a-shot, a pool table, a huge backyard...

Status of the relationship between Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson: For the last three episodes, I’ve been skeptical about their relationship. The emoji sleeve discussion, the LeBron James debate,  ... it all seemed very forced and manufactured to me. But after watching Jackson toss a layup to Evans to dunk over the goal post after a touchdown in practice, my mind has been completely changed. That was one of the best things I’ve seen all series. You can’t make up moves like that.

Did you know, the Bucs got a new locker room? Oh, you didn’t? Well, it seems that it’s much nicer (padded seats!), larger and cleaner (the showers no longer have brown water?) than it was before. Everyone seems impressed. And it’s infinitely nicer than the visitors’ locker room.

The Bucs’ first home game of the season... and it’s raining, in typical Florida fashion. A massive thunderstorm less than an hour before kickoff threatened to bump back the start time, but the rain lightened up enough to allow for warmups. And as they players ran out of the locker room, they jumped in nearly every puddle along the way.

A number of Bucs’ family members were in the stands for the game—Doug Martin’s mother, Cameron Lynch’s girlfriend, Ryan Fitzpatrick’s many children... (Martin’s mother: “Is that his family? That’s a lot of Fitzpatricks...”)—and I have to say, I was incredibly impressed at how dry everyone was, at least at the start of the game. I was at this game for The MMQB, and I unfortunately got caught in the massive rainstorm while walking in from the parking lot—it took nearly two hours for my clothes to dry off while sitting in an extremely air-conditioned press box.

The Game of Thrones endings have returned. I mean, this was given, especially with the season finale taking place last weekend. The camera goes inside McCoy’s massive home theater and tapes his reactions to the episode.