The Cleveland Browns have been selected to be the focus of the 13th season of HBO’s documentary reality series Hard Knocks. For those of you who aren’t familiar, Hard Knocks follows one NFL team through training camp and preseason as they prepare for the upcoming season. This will be the first season that Cleveland will be featured in. New general manager John Dorsey was not a fan of the news initially, but warmed up after talking it over with coaches and others from the Browns front office. “Like many, I was reluctant about being the featured team on Hard Knocks but once we sat down and talked about it as an organization, I feel a lot better and understand why the time is right. Hue [Jackson] and I both feel like this team is in a good place and that we are in the process of building something that will lead to success. Being a part of Hard Knocks will give our fans the opportunity to see how passionate the people in our building are about winning and how excited we are about getting to work and preparing for the 2018 season.” Dorsey said in a statement.
Hard Knocks has a list of criteria that they use when determining which team they will feature every year. Teams are exempt from consideration if:
- They have been featured on the show in the past ten seasons.
- They have a new head coach.
- They have made the playoffs in either of the past two seasons
Based on this criteria, only six teams were eligible for the 2018 season: the Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns, Denver Broncos, LA Chargers, San Francisco 49ers, and Washington Redskins. Now, for selfish reasons, I was hoping that the Ravens would be chosen. But for a series that is shown to a national audience, I believe that Cleveland was the better choice. In fact, I’d argue that they were the best choice of the six. There’s multiple interesting storylines for Hard Knocks producers to explore in Cleveland.
1. How will a historically bad team bounce back?
The Browns are coming off a season that they’d surely like to erase from the history books. They lost every game in 2017, becoming the second team in NFL history to finish with an 0-16 record. It will be interesting to see some of the things they do differently in hopes of producing a different result. Ross Ketover of NFL Films had this to say. “We’re looking forward to showing NFL fans around the world what the Haslam’s, John Dorsey, Hue Jackson and the coaching staff are doing to rebuild the team and reboot one of the most iconic franchises in sports”.
2. Hue Jackson
Speaking Of Hue Jackson, the head coach of the Browns, he makes for interesting subject matter all on his own. Will he finally be on the hotseat if this season resembles his first two with the team, in which he had a combined record of 1-31?
It’s understandable that he’d been given a pass with the lack of talent he had at his disposal over that stretch, and I’m sure that was part of the agreement when he was hired. But Dorsey has done an excellent job of bringing in talent this offseason, which we’ll get to shortly. With that excuse out the window, I think it’s fair to believe that he’d be feeling the heat if he doesn’t win somewhere in the range of 4-6 games in 2018. Also, let’s keep it real… Jackson says some straight up crazy things that would make for some very “entertaining” sound bites.
3. Can #1 overall pick Baker Mayfield reverse the curse, so to speak?
Rookie Baker Mayfield has a lot in common with Baltimore Ravens fellow rookie Lamar Jackson. They both won a Heisman (Jackson in 2016, Mayfield in 2017), they are both talented first round picks that are viewed as the future of their respective franchises, and, the one I’m most interested for our purposes here, they both are heavily debated as to whether their game can translate into an NFL quarterback.
For a period of a couple of months before the 2018 NFL Draft, you couldn’t go a day without hearing the questions surrounding Mayfield: Is he too small? Is he worth a first round selection? Does he need time to develop? There seemed to be an almost 50/50 split of believers and doubters. I expect that Hard Knocks crew will follow Mayfield closely and push these questions to the forefront.
But that’s not the only intrigue that follows Mayfield. The Browns have had 12 different starters at quarterback over the past seven seasons. They are a team that is desperate for stability at the most important position. I’d expect Hard Knocks to wonder whether or not Mayfield will finally break one of the many curses that have plagued the cities sports franchises.
4. Talent EVERYWHERE
Here’s a weird statement: the Cleveland Browns are stacked with talent throughout their roster. Even a die-hard Browns fan couldn’t say that sentence with a straight face over the past decade. But thanks to so many high draft picks, along with the great moves made by Dorsey thus far, this team looks vastly improved, dare I say even good, on paper.
Between the free agency moves, the four players selected by the team in the first 35 picks of the draft (including Mayfield), and last year’s first overall pick Myles Garrett, Hard Knocks has plenty of interesting players to highlight. Players that I would expect to be featured throughout the show include Mayfield, Garrett, new star receiver Jarvis Landry, old star receiver Josh Gordon (and his attempt to keep his head on straight and become the player he should be), and new starting QB Tyrod Taylor, and whether or not he’s able to keep the future of the position from becoming the present at his expense. And others I’m sure… on a team with 90 men, you’re sure to have some interesting characters with some interesting hobbies and weird habits.
Add all this up and it equates to the one word that Hard Knocks producers would say is their aim with a show like this: entertainment. I’ve never missed a season of Hard Knocks (probably because I was hooked after watching the Ravens on the very first season), and I certainly don’t plan on missing out on what I view as one of the more potentially interesting seasons. Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Cleveland Browns premieres it’s five-episode season on Tuesday, August 7 at 10 PM EDT. I can’t wait.