Training camp with the Detroit Lions
Freezing hot. On his junk.
It was a rare moment of levity in the penultimate episode of Hard knocks: Training camp with the Detroit Lions. Running back Craig Reynolds stands on the sidelines in a preseason battle against the Pittsburgh Steelers with a hot mic and hot nuts, voicing an uncomfortable whoopsie for a national television audience. “I got Icy Hot on my nuts by accident,” he says. “That crazy shit.” And you half-expect narrator Liev Schreiber to describe the scenario in his booming voice: “That’s life in the NFL. Sometimes you get an uncomfortable tingling sensation on your balls “- PAUSE FOR DRAMATIC EFFECT -” and you have no choice but to play through it.
Reynolds has been a key character in the last two episodes. He’s the kind of guy hard knocks likes: Not drafted. From a school you’ve never heard of (Kutztown University, a name I promise I didn’t make up). Bounced around a few NFL teams. Inspired by his incarcerated brother. Work hard. Humble. A few skills. Not a clear starter. hard knocks plays on the fact that he’s on the roster bubble, that his performance against Pittsburgh may determine his future. But in reality, we die-hard Lions madmen who read the daily and suffer every cruddy cruddy game every cruddy cruddy season know that the man nicknamed Netflix – still no mention of it here on HBO, notably – is pretty much a lock to make this team. But this is where “reality” separates from “reality TV”. Sometimes you have to create a little drama – PAUSE FOR DRAMATIC EFFECT – to get people watching.
It is the goal of every hard knocks season when the dark cloud of list cuts hangs over everything. Head Coach Dan Campbell and his coaching staff pile into a meeting room and begin moving names around on a large board. They have to reduce 80 players to 53. It’s nerve-wracking. The atmosphere is dark. The facial expressions, jovial in the previous episodes, are sinister. Some of those players they saw getting rid of a grueling training camp will be cut and never play football again. It squeezes your guts. Will Campbell cry? We know he’s a crier. He must cry before all this is done.
Reynolds’ name comes up during the meeting. Running backs coach Duce Staley, the high-energy guy who’s been a real comedic force for this TV show, gets as serious as a Hallmark card: “He’s everything we stand for.” Type five, Craig. High five. Buy this man a beer.
Other names are deliberately not mentioned in these exhausting and intense meetings. Dan Campbell assesses the performance of a fortunately anonymous player in a very Dan Campbell way: “I had three bullshit and two bullshit in the first record alone. I don’t know What he was doing.” In a morning meeting with the whole team, Campbell said the guys on the starting line fall into two categories: talented but untrustworthy, and trustworthy but not everything. quite as talented.He’ll probably go with trustworthy every time.
Do you remember the juggler from last week? Kalil Pimpleton? He’s a good boy. Good attitude. His mom loves him. Is he a trustworthy wide receiver on the field? Hmm. We have a little fun where he meets a professional juggler for a lesson, almost certainly hosted by hard knocks producers. The guy pulls out three giant knives that would cause Crocodile Dundee to mess up his underpants and says that at the end of the day, Kalil will juggle them. “You’re kidding,” Kalil said. He was joking. They stick with balls and clubs.
Last week against Indianapolis, Kalil dropped a touchdown pass. This week, against Pittsburgh, he… dropped a touchdown pass. Campbell paces the sideline. “You give these guys an opportunity,” he says, “and now you know.” Maybe the circus is recruiting?
Another battle brewed this week, between defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn and offensive coordinator Ben Johnson, which wasn’t even mentioned on hard knocks and finally gets some screen time. The O smoked the D in practice thanks to starting quarterback Jared Goff, who played this training camp. And hot. Freezing hot? I don’t know, both descriptors are appropriate. Either way, Glenn fumes in a meeting, chewing on his players’ ass mercilessly. At Johnson’s meeting, he is puzzled. “Glenn wouldn’t even talk to me,” he said.
They contradict him during what Schreiber calls “the longest and toughest practice of training camp.” Pads, full contact. Cue dramatic music. We watch rookie first pick Aidan Hutchinson line up and rush and line up and rush and line up and rush until he can’t catch his breath. Poof, puff, puff, puff. Legs, rubbery. What’s a good shot for this scene? Welcome to the NFL, kid? Yeah. WELCOME TO THE NFL, YOUNG.
A few other scenarios to note:
- The Rodrigo report: Linebacker Malcolm “Rodrigo” Rodriguez’s family came to Pittsburgh to watch him crush some guys. This guy is all smiles. It’s the same every episode: praise from the coaches for Rodrigo; cut to him cutting an opposing player like Paul Bunyan to a ponderosa pine. The sixth-round pick that plays well above that mark is the subject of Schreiber’s horniest narration: “Rodriguez looks like a robbery in Pittsburgh.” To find? TO FIND?
- Mr. Blough is his name, that name is still Mr. Blough: David Blough is in tight competition with Tim Boyle to support Goff. Boyle tees off in Pittsburgh and plays like hot molten shit on a blazing summer day: PU He gets shot for Blough, who shows more heart and grit than skill. Do you remember offensive lineman Obinna “EZ” Eze, one of the longshots to make the team? He smashes a block and the Pittsburgh defender crunches Blough, who peeeeeelllllls off the turf, and somehow stops himself from swearing. Or even saying Gol-LY!
- Goff gets face time here, after mostly doofy reaction shots in previous episodes. He is all smiles. He plays very well, dropping pennies everywhere. He meets high school students who design clothes to sell for his charity. We briefly meet his new fiancée Christen Harper, who isn’t identified as a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model, but we true Lions fans know. OF COURSE THE GUY IS ALL SMILING. And if I’m not mistaken, he got caught apologizing to Blough for swearing. It’s a line of subtext in this season – I don’t think Blough ever swears. He must be one of those people.
- The Lions lost to Pittsburgh 19-9 in the most unassailable preseason game since the last preseason game. Bravo to whoever had the courage to empty this one.
The episode ends on a cliffhanger. The Sword of Damocles hangs over some of these guys: EZ, the Juggler, Mr. Blough, Netflix. (Although it’s not really Netflix. It’s too good.) Can we handle the suspense? Next week, Dan Campbell will have to cut some, and the coach will cry. That’s my chilling prediction, anyway.
John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Learn more about his work at johnserbaatlarge.com.