HBO Hard Knocks has become must watch television on Tuesday nights. For fans of the Miami Dolphins and fans of the NFL and football in general. Last week, the Dolphins episode was the second highest rated Hark Knocks episode behind the NY Jets season finale two years ago. Most of that likely centered on the Chad Johnson release.
If last weeks episode covered Johnson and upstarts like Chris “7-11″ Hogan this week didn’t give fans a glimpse of another upcoming flavor. Instead, it dove deeper into the darker side of the business where even the local media can’t go completely. Starting the show off we pick up where Chad Johnson left off. Karlos Dansby talking voice over on a television clip seen in the office of General Manager Jeff Ireland.
Dansby voices his opinion of the release of Johnson, something we have all already heard, and the fact that in his opinion, it would become more of a distraction. The first portion of the episode seems to sit on this issue. Chad Johnson simply becomes the name associated with the issue at hand. The players don’t particularly care for how it was handled. In an uneasy moment, Reggie Bush is seen walking up to Jeff Ireland and Joe Philbin, asking if he and two others could have a sit down. What first appears to be a welcomed interaction soon becomes edgy when Philbin asks if it pertains to Johnson. Both Philbin and Ireland seem to shift in their demeanor.
Cutting film to Bush, Jake Long, and Karlos Dansby entering Joe Philbin’s office, we learn that three players want to form a player committee of some sort where they step up and get guys on the bubble motivated to make the roster or avoid being cut. The three believe that had they stepped up, perhaps the antics of Johnson would have been a non-issue. It’s an uncomfortable moment that seems to set the tone for the rest of the episode.
We learn that John Jerry is being tasked repeatedly because he has the athletic ability but not the drive. We learn that four weigh-ins have taken place and Jerry is still the lone player to come in overweight each time. Playing at 360, coaches want him around 330 and at one point we hear he is around 356 or thereabouts.
By the time that the Carolina game rolls around, we are really not expecting much outside of what happens after the game. Which in this case really isn’t much. We see Kevin Coyle unhappy upstairs with the defense during the game, Mike Sherman none to pleased a few chairs down from him, and Joe Philbin having a few words at half time about the game not being played like it should.
Perhaps up to this point, the only two things that haven’t been on the darker side is the “rookie talent show” which falls flat with an F-bomb riddled song by two rookies and the much more lighthearted and laughable “look a like segment” where an image of Joe Philbin is shown on the big screen side by side with South Park character Mr. Mackey which got a good laugh.
The second of that first half hour would be the “attention to detail” as it were called by Joe Philbin. Noticing that Davone Bess has his watch on, a players shoes are untied, what looks like popcorn on the practice bubbles practice field. In what seems and is presented as an obsession, fans will likely wonder how that attention to the details will translate onto the football field. Coaches in general are quirky and meticulous in some way. It’s why they are coaches to begin with so Philbin’s apparent obsession with the little things is nothing out of the ordinary.
As the first half closes we learn that recently signed OG Eric Steinbach is contemplating retirement. Sore body and an inability to play consistently at a level that he has been accustomed to. Sitting in Joe Philbin’s office, it’s easily visible that the two men share a deep genuine respect and liking of each other. “Steiny” as Philbin calls him, lays it out for his coach who responds by telling him to think it all over, get some rest, and then they would revisit it. It’s the one clear interaction thus far, this season, where Philbin seems to have a solid relationship from a player. Something that left me thinking that the Dolphins need.
The second half of the show however was really a lead in to what Dolphins fans knew was coming. The anointment of Ryan Tannehill as the teams starting QB.
It would be assumed, easily assumed, that after watching episode one where Philbin came into the QB room to dispense the depth chart to the QB’s that he would once again take to the task of letting the players know who the starter for the season would in fact be. That however was not the case. I did find myself wondering about the timing of the announcement, Monday prior to the show airing. As if to get it done in time to make this episodes cut.
Unfortunately, the head coach didn’t inform the players of their decision. Instead, we learn of the QB starter through two meetings between player and assistant quarterback coach Zac Taylor. Matt Moore is the first to find out and while he keeps a brave face the shifting in his chair, the tense shoulders, and the deliberate walk out of the room, complete with a hard swipe at a water bottle, at the end of the conversation tells he is not happy.
Moore is then seen entering Philbin’s office where the two have a “chat”. Moore lets his coach know that he has been here before, can come off the bench and lead, and will do whatever he needs to do. Philbin tells him that it was very close and that he is needed on this team. One of the two, Philbin or Taylor, told Moore that Tannehill was going to need his vet experience and to “get out there and coach”.
When the Philbin Moore conversation is over, Moore gets up shakes Philbin’s hand and leaves quickly. The moment itself despite the conversations lean towards a “I understand” sentiment, is really more or less tense and despite the attempt of Moore to hide his disappointment, it’s obvious as he leaves that whether it’s the cameras, the situation, or both, he isn’t pleased.
The episode closes with the Tannehill notification. First by Zac Taylor informing Tannehill he is the starter, that it was close but he earned it. Then a quick meeting with Phiblin in his office where the head coach lays out the hard work that is ahead of him.
This episode didn’t feature the previous two’s feel good story and it’s likely that with the weeks narrowing towards a conclusion, the overall tone is going to remain darker as players begin to learn their fate, lose their jobs, and face the harsh reality of the business side of the sport. Episode three was another good episode but the uneasy feelings, tense personal interactions and moments makes you realize that as HBO Hard Knocks moves forward, the players are feeling pressure from a lot of different sides.