DETROIT – Detroit has been buzzing about the Lions being on Hard Knocks for weeks, and the first taste of the series absolutely did not disappoint.
The first episode of the HBO series aired at 10 p.m. Tuesday (Aug. 9), and it had a little bit of everything. There was laughing. There was crying. And there was a whole lot of swearing.
Anyone who follows the Lions should definitely watch the episode, but if you don’t have HBO, or you’d rather just get the highlights, I broke down my top takeaways from episode one below.
Dan Campbell: Part crazy, part awesome
Remember Campbell’s introductory press conference, when he talked about biting knee caps and kicking people in the teeth and whatnot?
“We’re going to kick you in the teeth,” he said. “When you punch us back, we’re going to smile at you, and when you throw us down, we’re going to get up, and on the way up, we’re going to bite a kneecap off. We’re going to stand up, and it’s gonna take two more shots to knock us down. On the way up, we’re gonna take your other kneecap. Then we’re gonna get up, and then it’s gonna take three shots to get us down. And when we do, we’re gonna take another hunk out of you.”
Well, a three-win season wasn’t enough to curb Campbell’s enthusiasm. The man is still equal parts awesome and crazy -- heck, maybe even a little more of the latter.
Tuesday’s episode opened with four straight minutes of Campbell wisdom. Except this time he wasn’t biting knee caps, he was yanking opponents into the ocean and drowning them.
“There’s a number of teams, as it equates to, just bear with me, the ocean, right?” Campbell said. “There’s a number of teams, they just barely get to the water. You’ve got to get in the water to compete. A number of teams, that’s all they get to. Then there’s a number of teams, they are in the shallows, and they come in a hurry, man, and they are all over your a--. They are all over your a--, and they strike and move. They strike and move, and they’re dangerous, man. You’ve just got to get ahold of them, though. If you can just get ahold of them, and you start dragging their a-- to the deep, dark abyss, you can drown them, and that’s what we’ve got to be. That’s who we have to be, cause that’s our domain. That is our domain. Because we’ll tread water as long as it takes to f------ bury you. We’ll go as long as it takes, because we can, and we choose to.”
Now, that’s the “crazy.” But don’t forget about the “awesome.”
There’s the quirky sort of awesome, which was on display when Campbell did up-downs with the team. But more importantly, he obviously has a genuine, trusting relationship with his players and coaches.
“All I think about is you guys,” Campbell said.
There can’t be a quote that better sums up this man. He definitely doesn’t go a single moment between August and January without thinking about football.
Campbell has a monumental task ahead of him -- remember, this isn’t only a 3-13-1 team, it’s a franchise that hasn’t known an ounce of success in the Super Bowl era. But after Hard Knocks, I have a feeling his support among fans will only grow.
Aidan Hutchinson shouldn’t quit his day job, but ‘Billie Jean’ was fun
No scene was talked about more leading up to Tuesday’s episode than rookie Aidan Hutchinson’s rendition of “Billie Jean,” by Michael Jackson.
It lived up to the hype because it was hilarious to watch the No. 2 overall pick dance and sing in front of his teammates. He was a great sport, but Hutchinson probably shouldn’t trade in his pads for a microphone anytime soon.
The best part was near the end, when the whole team started to join in. That was really cool.
The speech heard ‘round the world
I can’t say enough about the speech Jamaal Williams gave during a team huddle. Sure, he probably brought out his best content for the Hard Knocks cameras, but it didn’t feel like Williams was just putting on a show. He seemed genuine.
Williams can be as funny and charismatic as anyone in interviews, but during this scene, he had fans ready to run through a wall.
“I want to let y’all know, man, today is the minimum effort,” Williams said. “Tomorrow, we’re going to come back even better. I know we started out slow. I know we’ve got pads on the first day back. I know we’re looking at coach (like he’s) crazy, but we’ve got to believe in him, you know what I mean? He’s gonna put us in the right position. We’ve just got to come out here and be dogs.
“We’ve got to come out here and know. We’ve got to be champions. If today, y’all think this is it, this ain’t it. We’ve got to keep going. Do not give up. Do not feel like you’re tired. When you’re tired, think of last year, and think of that f------ record. Every time I get tired or I think I can’t go no more, I think of that f------ record. That ain’t us.
“We can make it. We’ve got to believe. We’ve got to be mentally strong. When we’re tired, that’s when we’ve got to put our fundamentals together. That’s when we’ve got to be more focused. When we’re tired, look across the field and see how tired they are. That should give you more effort to be like, ‘I’m gonna beat his a--. I’m gonna get fundamentally strong.’
“Everybody’s great when they’re not tired, but champions is when they’re tired, that’s when the real champions come out. That’s when a real dog comes out. Cause if you’re going to p--- like a puppy, stay on the porch and let the big dogs eat. Let them on the f------ field.
“Have some heart. I get emotional about this. I’m about to cry, cause I care about y’all. Last year wasn’t it. Last year f------ got me angry, p----- for this year. I’m trying to be better for y’all. When you see I’m tired, I’m gonna keep going. Remember your why. Remember why you play football. I want you to give everything you got -- everything.
“Do your best, let’s go. Lions on three.”
Players coaching players
There was an interesting montage with Campbell’s assistant coaches that emphasized how long each spent playing in the NFL. It drew attention to how much playing experience the Lions have on their staff.
Overall, Lions coaches have more than 80 combined seasons’ worth of professional playing experience. Campbell obviously made it a point to surround himself with coaches who played for a long time.
“They were gritty guys,” linebackers coach Kelvin Sheppard said. ”They were kind of not the flash players on the team, but more the glue players on the team.”
Aaron Glenn vs. Duce Staley
One of my favorite parts of the show was the battle between defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn and assistant head coach/running backs coach Duce Staley.
The segment started with Staley telling Glenn how much he loves him in front of the entire team. Then they went out on the practice field.
“I wanna f--- you up between the lines,” Staley told Glenn.
The back-and-forth between them as the offense and defense went at each other was fun to watch. Glenn got a few words in, but Staley definitely stole the show.
Battle of first-round picks
The most interesting battle on the field is between the team’s 2022 first-round pick and 2021 first-round pick.
Penei Sewell is coming off a strong rookie season after the Lions selected him No. 7 overall in last year’s draft. He’s expected to be a critical part of what should be an elite offensive line.
Hutchinson, meanwhile, hasn’t even played an NFL game yet, but by all accounts, he held his own against Sewell and improved from the first week of camp to the second.
As Sewell put it in a post-practice interview, “Iron sharpens iron.”
Campbell and his defensive staff put a major emphasis on tackling, and it sounds like they did so earlier than players expected.
”I swear to God I’m not a lunatic,” Campbell said when he talked to his players about doing live tackling the first day back.
He said the team’s defensive philosophy is built on two pillars: pursuit and tackling. Based on the first episode of Hard Knocks, the latter is the top priority.