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Hard Knocks returns in the Covid-19 era with its first episode of Rams & Chargers

We recap Hard Knocks 2020, episode one. The NFL in the age of Covid-19.

Head coach Anthony Lynn of the Los Angeles Chargers looks on from the sideline against the Kansas City Chiefs during the second half at Arrowhead Stadium on December 29, 2019 in Kansas City, Missouri. Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

Football is back baby! Well, sorta. The premier of season 15 of Hard Knocks hit Tuesday evening on HBO, making it at least feel like there will be NFL football in 2020. That feeling can’t be dismissed out of hand, especially after both the Big Ten and Pac-12 announced they wouldn’t have football this fall on the same day as the Hard Knocks debut.

This season is the first in which they’ll spread out the show between two teams, the Los Angeles Chargers and Los Angeles Rams. That means they’ll have more personalities to choose from when editing, but could also take away from the depth. This first episode was a good introduction to the coaches and players and set the scene for what will be a training camp like any before.

The Covid-19 era

In pandemic mode, every team is in hurry up and wait mode as players are tested for Covid-19. Chargers coach Anthony Lynn told his team on one of their many Zoom calls:

Fellas, this year is not like any year we’ve had in the National Football League. It’s going to be chaos. And it’s going to be change. And it’s going to come every single day. The goals, the objectives will not change. I can’t promise you’re not gonna get infected. I got infected.

Be ready for chaos. Embrace it. Because if we’re going to play, the team that handled this thing the best now, is going to have the best chance of winning that trophy.

Lynn’s news that he had Covid-19 was a bit of news bomb, but he is okay. We didn’t get much actual football in this one, as we wait for practices to actually kick off next week, but there were plenty of interesting tidbits that made the watch enjoyable.

Knowing that these guys are going to be slamming into each other as hard as possible soon enough, does make some of the social distancing seem like a weird play. But, as a fan, it’s also good to see the precautions and the mentality that must go into a season where avoiding a pandemic is more important than avoiding a defender.

Cornerback Casey Hayward was not a fan of getting his nose swabbed, but his test didn’t look nearly as invasive as the tests that send the swab up into your cranium.

Comedic relief

Donte Deayon may end up being that player you would not want to get stuck with in an elevator, but watching him do his routine with a shirtless Aaron Donald was funny. We’ll see if they stick with him as he plays up for the cameras or if he is just trying too hard.

Tension

Star cornerback Jalen Ramsey forced his way out off Jacksonville and now is on his final year of his rookie contract. On a Zoom interview, Ramsey was asked about his contract and was pressed after not wanting to get into it. Ramsey briefly left and then came back, but in the end made it clear that he’s not going to worry about his contract and let his agent take care of negotiations.

Cuts

Players getting released are always a big part of Hard Knocks, but usually we get attached to a player trying to make the team who then is either cut or makes the team toward the end. In the first episode we didn’t get that attachment, but we did see tight end Andrew Vollert’s raw reaction to getting cut so early in camp. Knowing what these players go through to be ready to compete with the added stress of the pandemic, is going to make cuts hit home even more this season.

Social Justice

Coach Anthony Lynn wasn’t all out coach speak, as he addressed the players on how they should approach camp this season.

My approach with the team every year is, I look at what could be distractions and I try to eliminate distractions so that you guys can focus on playing football. There’s some things going on in our country right now that we cannot ignore…I’m not gonna tell you ‘Let’s sweep this under the rug, we’ll deal with this shit when the season’s over.’ No, we can’t do that. If you are actively involved and passionate about change and being a change, then you do what you have to do. So let’s just respect each other.

Respecting his players to do what they need to was refreshing. We even got a look at players talking to each other about kneeling during the National Anthem and how longsnapper Cole Mazza was conflicted due to his family’s military background. They discussed that kneeling wasn’t in protest of the military, but instead about police brutality. But they also were supportive of Mazza if he chose to stand while others decided to kneel.

Sean McVay

McVay is rich and young and shirtless in this episode, so we’ll see how often he goes the Matthew McConaughey route this season. He’s also Jon Gruden. Having studied and coached under Gruden, it’s impossible not to hear Gruden when he talks. He’s not quite the caricature Gruden is, but he may be heading that way.

I’ll leave you with this sage advice from McVay, “Don’t be the guy that takes a shit in the porta potties. I went in there. I about threw up. Have a little bit more social awareness!”