Five Likely Storylines to Get Excited About With the Rams and Chargers on 'Hard Knocks'

For the first time, 'Hard Knocks' is going with a pair of clubs as they navigate life in a new stadium and relatively unfamiliar territory.
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Because of the invasive (from a team perspective) nature of Hard Knocks, whomever is chosen each season needs their back scratched, too. This is why we so often see a team that is bogged down by stagnation and irrelevance (the Buccaneers in 2017), a team that is desperate to say no really, everything is OK now, we’re not a nightmare circus! (the Browns in 2018, the Raiders in 2019) or a team that could use the free publicity as they work to try and sell us something.

Such is the case with the 2020 team(s): The Chargers and Rams, though it might not be the worst thing. For the first time, Hard Knocks is going with a pair of clubs as they navigate life in a new stadium and relatively unfamiliar territory. The Chargers, more so than the Rams, were likely drawn in by the allure of introducing Justin Herbert to a larger audience in an attempt to fill the cavernous new stadium they’ll soon occupy (after struggling mightily to fill a soccer stadium a quarter of the size the last three years).

It would be hard for Hard Knocks to be more frustrating than it was in 2019 amid the Antonio Brown saga and the painfully meaningless attempts at secrecy. Maybe I just really miss football, but I am cautiously optimistic.

Here’s what we can look forward to:

• Two different perspectives on how coaches will foster constructive discussion and handle social justice issues

The advantage of having two teams on the show at this point in history is that we’ll get a broader sense of how coaches are planning to handle what promises to be a tidal wave of player demonstration and activism. Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn seemed to flub his first test already in an interview this week, clinging to the middle ground on Colin Kaepernick by saying that, while Kaepernick fits his system, he has not spoken to Kaepernick about playing for the Chargers. It’s a blueprint that many coaches will follow in the coming days and weeks, making it seem like not much has changed. Still, there is a chance, however slim, that we see a rare glimpse of humanity as these coaches try to circumnavigate a world and role in which they never imagined they’d find themselves.

• Two different perspectives on how coaches handled the most unprecedented offseason in modern NFL history

At the outset of the COVID-19 outbreak, I heard one coach describe the coming alterations to the condensed year this way: Some coaches were going to use it as an excuse, and some coaches were going to use it as an opportunity to get so far ahead that it drives you crazy. Both McVay and Lynn are forward-thinking offensive coaches with loaded staffs. Both of them are going to have some innovative approaches to the virtual offseason.

• More robust cut-down day storylines

One of the consistent bits in Hard Knocks is a player with a semi-interesting backstory who is tracked occasionally throughout the show up to cut-down day. With practice squad rosters possibly expanding and two rosters to choose from, Hard Knocks should have a deeper pool of personalities to choose from. While nothing will likely compare to the depth of feelings we had for Long Island-native and crystal enthusiast Devon Cajuste, here’s hoping that this season can unearth something nearly as good.

• Another montage of Tyrod Taylor handling things well

It wasn’t too long ago that Taylor was in another rendition of Hard Knocks—the hilariously, irresponsibly unsupervised 2018 Browns—fending off a young, charismatic first-round pick for a starting job. Taylor is one of the NFL’s true good guys, but something tells me the transition of power will not be as seamless this time. There is real optimism surrounding Taylor in Lynn’s offense, and with the abbreviated (or possibly nonexistent) offseason, we could learn more about a player who has never really gotten much of a realistic shot at piloting an offense suited to his skill set (his first two years as a starter in Buffalo, by the way: 62.6 completion percentage, 6,058 passing yards, 37 touchdowns, 12 INTs, 94.2 passer rating, compared to 58.8/5,163 yards/30 TDs/21 INTs/78.2 passer rating for Josh Allen).

• Sean McVay remembering things

While the media fawning over Sean McVay remembering the names of players he’s competing against elicited some eye-rolls around the country, it doesn’t change the fact that a photographic memory is inherently interesting and should be put to the test whenever possible. It’s a bit that—for me—has endless possibilities. I think Sean McVay is funnier than he gets credit for and should explore his comedic space a bit, perhaps by rattling off some odd factoid about every player on his 90-man roster or—better yet—describing from memory every detail of his first-ever date. Just something to think about. 

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