In the absence of preseason games, the typical Hard Knocks week-to-week structure is being challenged this year. The preseason schedule lends itself to a perfectly fluid arc for each season of the show: an episode begins with practices and meetings, culminating with a game against a different team, followed by roster cuts, where we learn the fates of players we've grown to care about during the show's run. It's a tried and true method that's proven effective for the previous 14 seasons of the show.
Constraints breed creativity, though, and the show's producers have had to work with what they've got. In episode three, we finally got to see full-pads practices, with the Rams even playing a live scrimmage at the sparking new SoFi Stadium.
Tyrod Taylor Makes His Case
Much of this season's first two episodes have focused on the Chargers' first-round rookie quarterback, Justin Herbert. Herbert's prototypical size and impressive arm have drawn rave reviews from teammates and coaches, but they've drawn some of the spotlight away from veteran quarterback Tyrod Taylor.
Taylor signed a two-year, $11 million contract with the team before the 2019 season after a difficult 2018 campaign with the Cleveland Browns. With the starting job in Los Angeles unsettled, Taylor's ready for a new chance to compete.
“I think that everything in the past nine years have prepared me for the opportunity that I have now," Taylor said. "Playing with something to prove definitely motivates me, but it’s not the only thing.”
Taylor made three starts for Cleveland in 2018—his most recent experience as a starter—completing 49.4% of his passes for 473 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. From 2016-17, he threw 31 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions for the Buffalo Bills, posting an 89.4 passer rating and helping to end a 17-year postseason drought for the Bills in 2017.
Much has been made about Herbert's quiet demeanor, both in the pre-draft process and since he's been in camp. Taylor also falls more on the reserved side of the spectrum, but his experience and reputation for speaking when needed have earned him the reputation as a strong leader.
“He’s still an introvert, but there’s a way to be introverted and lead," Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn said. "I think he speaks up when he has to.”
Clay Johnston's Pep Talk from "Papa Favre"
Among the roster long-shots to receive the most screen time has been Rams rookie linebacker Clay Johnston. Johnston's elated reaction upon being picked in the seventh round out of Baylor was one of this year's draft highlights, and he's maintained his enthusiasm so far during camp.
On this week's episode, Johnston received some words encouragement from "Papa Favre," more commonly known as Brett Favre.
Johnston's father, Kent, was a strength coach in the NFL for two decades, and was with the Packers in 1997 when the team won the Super Bowl. Kent and Favre became close friends, with Kent serving as best man at Favre's wedding.
As Clay continues to get acclimated to life in the NFL, Favre offered some advice as rookie continues to fight for a spot on the team.
“You’re gonna be fine. I’ve played with a ton of guys, but not many guys like you who love it," Favre said. "I always liked the guys like yourself, that come in and have that full energy…that’s the kind of guys you win with.”
Favre's advice seems to be a returning of the favor of sorts, as a younger Clay apparently helped the Hall of Famer with his throwing mechanics back in his playing days:
Keenan Allen Faces a Familiar Foe
The Chargers padded their secondary this offseason by signing four-time Pro Bowler Chris Harris Jr. to a two-year deal. His arrival to Los Angeles brings about an end to a rivalry with his nemesis-turned-teammate, Keenan Allen.
Allen and Harris have squared off nine times during their careers, when Harris played for the Denver Broncos. In their past five meetings since 2017, Allen has hauled in 27 catches for 251 yards three scores, with the Broncos winning four of the five matchups.
Now paired on the same team, the two enjoy trash-talking and routine competitions during practice. Though each player has won his share of battles in the past, it was Allen who had the standout highlight in Tuesday night's episode—on a play in which he didn't even get the ball:
Melvin Ingram Ends His "Hold-In"
Three-time Pro Bowl defensive end Melvin Ingram had been a storyline up to this point in training camp for what was being dubbed a "hold-in." Ingram was attending practice each day, but not participating fully until his contract situation was sorted out.
On Friday, Ingram finally got his new deal, as the Chargers agreed to restructure his contract and guarantee his full $14 million salary for the 2020 season.
It's clear how important Ingram is to the defense's success. In one of his first practices since ending the hold-in, Ingram intercepted a pass during a two-minute, full-pads drill. A later conversation with quarterbacks coach Pep Hamilton illustrated how Ingram's enthusiasm and commitment impacts the entire team.
“If you take the energy that you have, the respect, the field cred that you have within this team and just lead them the right way, hold them accountable in everything that they do, we got a chance to win it all,” Hamilton said.
- The Rams held a full-pads scrimmage at SoFi Stadium, which drew plenty of oohs, ahs and cell phone pics from players and coaches. Even the referees couldn't help but capture the moment:
Based on the early view of the new digs, you can't really blame him:
- Another Rams rookie trying to stake his claim on a roster spot is undrafted safety Juju Hughes from Fresno State. Though Hughes' quest to leave an impression on the coaching staff continues, he's already stood out to Hard Knocks viewers for his unusual trademark of playing football with a toothpick in his mouth at all times.
Hughes says he began the habit seven or eight years ago to help him stop biting his nails. He stopped biting them after a few weeks, but the toothpick was there to stay.
"It’s me, man. You see me, you see the toothpick," Hughes said. "I’m never without it.”
- Rams second-year offensive tackle David Edwards learned the hard way: On Hard Knocks, someone's always watching: