It’s that time again. With NFL training camps underway, HBO’s Hard Knocks is on the scene, capturing all the moments only fans don’t typically get to see from the sidelines. For any football enthusiast, even if Hard Knocks doesn’t follow your team, it represents an exciting time. There’s just something special about being able to tune into a weekly episode detailing what happened in an NFL training camp.
You get to see players taking feedback from fellow teammates and coaches, all working toward the same goal. At first it’s simply to make the team, but everyone knows the greater goal, which is reaching the playoffs, and if you’re good enough, the Super Bowl.
Having dreams of making leap to a Lombardi may not be the expectation for the Detroit Lions, this year’s Hard Knocks participant, but that’s ok too. This is a team that’s been perpetually trashed for failing to compete and hasn’t sniffed the postseason since 2016.
While nobody from that team remains, we do have a coaching staff that expects significant growth from a roster that went 3-13-1 in their first season together. Having made several additions to both sides of the ball, there’s a certain sense of optimism idling in the Motor City. That excitement is only going to grow with the help of Hard Knocks.
What is Hard Knocks?
Made in conjunction with NFL Films, HBO’s Hard Knocks gives fans a behind-the-scenes look at what goes on during NFL training camps. Each year the NFL requires one team to participate, yet some volunteer. As rare as it is, the Lions actually did volunteer this season.
Generally teams are quite secretive, so they don’t exactly welcome cameras coming into their own controlled atmosphere, possibly giving other teams a glimpse of what goes on inside their organization.
But others seek the chance to build a bigger profile, not only for their players, but for their team in general, helping build a broader fanbase that reaches all parts of the world thanks to a TV audience available via streaming services.
The show is narrated by Liev Schreiber and is entering its 17th season of production.
Viewers have been able to follow several teams since the show made its premiere in 2001. Here’s the full list of those who have participated in Hard Knocks and when.
- Baltimore Ravens – 2001
- Dallas Cowboys – 2002, 2008, 2021
- Kansas City Chiefs – 2007 (narrated by Paul Rudd)
- Cincinnati Bengals – 2009, 2013
- New York Jets – 2010
- Miami Dolphins – 2012
- Atlanta Falcons – 2014
- Houston Texans – 2015
- Los Angeles Rams – 2016, 2020
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 2017
- Cleveland Browns – 2018
- Oakland Raiders – 2019
- Los Angeles Chargers – 2020
- Indianapolis Colts – 2021
- Arizona Cardinals – Coming up in 2022
When does Hard Knocks begin?
While Lions training camp has been underway since July 30, the first episode doesn’t premiere until Tuesday, August 9. It will air at 10 PM ET on HBO. The 2022 season features five episodes. Here is their schedule, which airs at the same time each Tuesday.
- Episode 1: Tuesday, Aug. 9 at 10:00 p.m. ET
- Episode 2: Tuesday, Aug. 16 at 10:00 p.m. ET
- Episode 3: Tuesday, Aug. 23 at 10:00 p.m. ET
- Episode 4: Tuesday, Aug. 30 at 10:00 p.m. ET
- Episode 5: Tuesday, Sept. 6 at 10:00 p.m. ET
Dan Campbell’s schtick: Fact or fiction?
I think it’s fact, his players think it’s fact, but will Dan Campbell’s methods come off as fiction on TV?
Probably not, as the Lions control all rights, giving them final say over everything that gets aired on television, but I’m genuinely curious about how his players respond to Campbell’s rah-rah approach.
Listen, it’s football, so he likely fits in perfectly. We’re talking about a guy who’s been a part of several successful locker rooms, not only in his playing days but also as a coach with the New Orleans Saints, learning from Sean Payton.
Campbell knows what a winning locker room needs. He’s not going to be the one to impede that process, but the rest of the world needs to see it before they completely buy into what Campbell and the Lions are selling.
For now everyone wants to constantly reference Campbell’s ‘biting kneecaps‘ quote, which is a great way to set the tone for how tough he expects his players to be, but there’s a lot more going on underneath the surface. Let’s see what else Campbell has to offer.
Jared Goff – Team leader, or just kinda there?
How does this team respond to Jared Goff being their unquestioned offensive leader? On one hand, he’s led a team to a Super Bowl, though not a victory. And that was with a star-studded cast. We’ve since seen the Los Angeles Rams move on, actually preferring Matthew Stafford instead. Can’t blame them.
But are the Lions stuck with Goff, or are they actually thrilled to have him as their QB not only for now, but possibly into the future? They’ve drastically improved their pass-catching core, but that doesn’t guarantee instant results. This isn’t your coffeemaker. This is still the Detroit Lions, who haven’t won a playoff game since the 1991 season.
Though he could probably still juke some out of their cleats, Barry Sanders isn’t coming out of retirement. That dream is dead.
Instead, the Lions will count on internal growth from Amon-Ra St. Brown, of whom Campbell’s a big fan. The 22-year-old put up 912 receiving yards and five touchdowns as a rookie fourth-round pick. The Lions are expecting an even bigger year out of the one they call the ‘Sun God’. He could become a star before our eyes this season, but fans who see him on Hard Knocks probably won’t be caught by surprise.
First-round receiver Jameson Williams may be heard but not seen early on. He’s been put on the non-football injury list stemming from his Jan. 10 ACL tear. But Goff still has free-agent signee DJ Chark, who came over from the Jacksonville Jaguars, after averaging 857 receiving yards from 2019-2020.
T.J. Hockenson is already a Pro Bowl player. Now that the Lions have added a few more beasts to go along with Goff’s top target, it should only open up more space for Hockenson with less attention paid to the fourth-year pro.
All in all, Goff should have a full arsenal of weapons this season, but it may take a bit to build chemistry with Chark and Williams. We’ll see how they fare on Hard Knocks.
Can Aidan Hutchinson steal the limelight?
The No. 2 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, Aidan Hutchinson just might be the biggest name on the entire Lions’ 90-man roster. And he’s never even played an NFL game. But that’s the gravitas he enters the league with, and as a local Michigan product who grew up loving the Lions, how can the fanbase not get behind one of their own?
Well, only if Hutchinson doesn’t fulfill his potential. That’s not something anyone will find out this season, that takes years, but Hutchinson could pave the way to a successful career with a strong start.
If Hutchinson can get off to a hot start, he could be the catalyst to turning around a defense that allowed the second-most points per game a season ago. Charles Harris led the team in sacks with 7.5 in 2021. Hutchinson topping that total isn’t out of the question.
We all want to see how quickly the 21-year-old talent gets acclimated to the pros, and getting a chance to see 1-on-1 reps against last year’s top pick, Penei Sewell could provide some of the best camp battles around. Let’s hope the Hard Knocks crew gets a chance to capture some of their exchanges.
Amon-Ra St. Brown’s family pedigree on full display
As mentioned earlier, Amon-Ra St. Brown has the chance to be special. He also comes from a family of athletes, with his brother Equanimeous St. Brown also being an NFL receiver and is currently on the Chicago Bears after four seasons with the Green Bay Packers. Their father, John, was a bodybuilder who was twice named Mr. Universe in the 1980s.
Cameras have already been in the Brown household, with Amon-Ra sharing a quick clip of the Hard Knocks crew being on-hand in early July. As one of the most talented Lions in the den, St. Brown should have plenty of camera time this summer.
Who becomes the Hard Knocks star of 2022?
Last year the stories of undrafted longshots Azur Kamara and Isaac Alarcon steal the show at times, as the HBO producers gave viewers an inside look at their training camp battle to snag a roster spot. Before Hard Knocks, nobody really knew who they were, but after? Here I am, a year later, still talking about them.
With the Lions having several positions and roster spots up for grabs, arguably more than the Dallas Cowboys did last year, I’m intrigued to see how many behind-the-scenes looks we’ll get at various NFL prospects hoping to make a lasting impact among NFL observers. They’re the feel-good stories that, no matter where they end up, have thousands of fans following their journey.
You never know who the next star could be, and maybe we’ll see the beginning stages of their growth this season on Hard Knocks, even if you’ve never heard their name before.