DETROIT – The second episode of Hard Knocks featuring the Detroit Lions had a little bit of everything: the “Rodrigo” underdog story, Amon-Ra St. Brown’s incredible draft day revenge list, and even some SOL sprinkled in.
Below are some of the highlights from the second episode, as well as my favorite moments.
They love ‘Rodrigo,’ and they’d better be right
One of the longest segments of Tuesday night’s episode centered around someone most fans didn’t even know was on the roster two weeks ago: Malcom Rodriguez.
In the first episode, Rodriguez was featured briefly for his rookie dance performance in front of the team. The tradition requires rookies to announce their signing bonus and, moments after the segment that featured Aidan Hutchinson touting his $23 million chunk of change, Rodriguez declared, somewhat meekly, “$100,000.”
But this week’s Rodriguez coverage was different. This time, Hard Knocks focused on what he can do on the field.
Many fans were buzzing about the sixth-round pick’s performance in the first preseason game. What they saw from the 5-foot-11 linebacker affectionately dubbed “Rodrigo” during Tuesday’s episode won’t do anything to temper their enthusiasm.
Rodriguez was all over the field in the practice clips that aired. Even more telling was the post-practice film session, when linebackers coach Kelvin Sheppard impressed upon the rest of the position group that a sixth-round pick was about to knock them all down the depth chart.
“Watch Rodriguez, watch Rodriguez,” Sheppard said. “I’m f------ sick of saying this about a rookie. What do y’all want me to do, put him out there first? Because that’s what’s about to happen.”
That’s kind of the problem, though. Sure, it’s fun to see a guy who was drafted so low have success right off the bat, but it also highlights how dreadful the Lions are at the linebacker position. There legitimately might not be a single starting-caliber linebacker on the roster, including Rodriguez.
That was a weakness last season, and the Lions didn’t make any major moves to address it. So yes, Rodriguez might shoot up the depth chart, but that has just as much to do with his teammates as it does him.
“It’s a rookie who I’m doing everything I can not to put out here first,” Sheppard said. “I’m sick of f------ saying it. He’s in the same f------ drills y’all are in.
“He’s going to continue to climb the depth chart until somebody decides, ‘I’m not gonna let this rookie take my job.’”
Fans are loving Rodriguez. The coaches clearly love Rodriguez. For the sake of the defense, they’d better hope they found a diamond in the rough.
How good can D’Andre Swift be?
It doesn’t take an episode of Hard Knocks to get excited about D’Andre Swift. In his second NFL season, he gained 1,069 yards from scrimmage and scored seven touchdowns. He’s already got 17 scores in his first two seasons.
But it sounds like running backs coach Duce Staley is still trying to get the most out of his young star. He said during the second episode that he believes Swift has what it takes to be special, but he’s trying to find a way to get it out of him.
“Listen to me, and it’s real,” Staley said to Swift during a meeting. “You can be the best in this league. You really can, but what you’ve got to do is this: You’ve got to have that dog mentality. You’ve got to bring that s--- out of you.”
There have been flashes of excellence from Swift since the Lions drafted him in the second round two years ago. Now, with an excellent offensive line, a veteran quarterback, and better weapons surrounding him on the field, there’s no reason Swift can’t make the leap into the top tier of NFL running backs.
Staley seems to believe that, but does Swift?
Amon-Ra St. Brown’s draft list
This was by far my favorite part of the second episode.
Lions fans couldn’t wait to hear from St. Brown after he caught 90 passes for 912 yards and five touchdowns as a rookie in 2021.
The No. 112 overall pick was asked about his draft experience, and he didn’t mince words.
“For me, I would say the draft experience was s-----.”
Some players who aren’t expected to be first- or second-round picks are just happy to hear their names called during the draft process. St. Brown is not one of those players.
In fact, the 22-year-old can name all 16 receivers who were selected before him in 2021. And their schools. In order.
So he did.
If you only have five minutes to spend on Hard Knocks, watch this segment. St. Brown ripped off all 16 names as Hard Knocks played footage of those draft picks being announced. He was calm. His voice was steady. But the fact that he can recite that list, well, you can tell it still eats at him.
“I broke the Detroit rookie record for most receptions and yards, so 100% I think the draft -- that chip on my shoulder that I still have right now, I think, comes from that day,” St. Brown said.
If he can be even better in Year 2, Lions fans are in for a treat.
Dan Campbell’s Week 2 wisdom
Like in the first episode, there were plenty of Weird Dan Campbell Moments.
For instance, he mumbled, “Funchess bunches of oats” to himself when Devin Funchess caught a touchdown pass. He compared T.J. Hockenson’s short, tight pants to ones his wife used to wear.
But there were also messages that got through to his team -- the kind that have allowed Campbell to unite the locker room despite last year’s 3-13-1 record.
My favorite Campbell-ism had to do with being a good teammate, even in the preseason.
“Just so, men, we’re all on the same page: I can’t wait to watch you guys play. I can’t,” Campbell said. “I’m so f------ excited. I want you guys to cut it loose and play right now, first preseason game.
“When you’re not in, once you’re done -- you’re, like, ‘Alright, first phase is out. You guys are done.’ Please keep your s--- back on, man. Please keep your pads on, keep your shoes laced.”
Campbell was trying to impress upon the players that even though starters and backups might not think the preseason means very much, it can make or break the careers of guys who are fighting for roster spots.
“Here’s the one thing I’m going to lose my s--- over: I will f------ go ape-s---, man, if it’s later in the game, and you guys are out, some of you guys are out, and your teammates are out there, and some of these guys are scratching and clawing for spots and I see you j------ around, you’re looking up in the stands, you’re laughing, you’re not paying attention, you’re being f------ disrespectful to your teammates,” Campbell said. “I’m going to f------ lose it, just so we’re on the same page.”
Ah yes, those three fateful letters. So polarizing within factions of the fan base, but also entirely undeniable.
This dose of SOL came during a reality television show about a preseason game, so the stakes couldn’t have been much lower. Fans don’t really care if the Lions win or lose until Sept. 11 when the Philadelphia Eagles come to town.
But we can’t ignore the way the team blew Friday’s game. It was vintage -- I mean, textbook -- Same Old Lions.
Up three points with the ball and under four minutes to go, the Lions were looking to ice the game when quarterback David Blough dropped a snap that hit him square in the hands.
OK, it’s a mistake. That happens. Overall, Blough actually had a nice game.
Well, a few plays later, Desmond Ridder threw a pass right into the arms of cornerback Chase Lucas, and he couldn’t hold on.
“I should’ve had a pick,” Lucas said. “Bro, I can’t. I just dropped the game-winner, bro.”
But even then -- even after essentially gifting the Atlanta Falcons two free possessions -- the Lions had a golden opportunity to win the game on fourth and nine from the 21-yard line. Instead, the defense allowed Ridder to toss up a back-foot wobbler into the end zone for a touchdown.
Unforced turnovers? Missed opportunities? Allowing conversions in long-yardage situations? Those are three key ingredients to a good old fashioned SOL feast.
David Blough and the trials of training camp
If you’ve played competitive sports, it’s hard not to feel for Blough while watching the end of that episode.
The fourth-year reserve out of Purdue is battling Tim Boyle for the backup quarterback job, and for most of the night Friday, he held his own.
Blough finished the game with 141 passing yards while completing 18 of 28 attempts (64.3%). His numbers weren’t staggering, but he got the job done, which is all the Lions can ask of a potential second-stringer.
But the fumbled snap was the first domino in the series of events that cost Detroit the game. Blough knew it, he knew his teammates knew it, and his frustration was obvious.
Nobody (except Blough, based on his reaction) is going to remember a few months from now that he dropped a snap in a preseason game. But that closing segment was a great glimpse into the reality of training camp. Those fringy players who are fighting for roster spots know that every snap counts, and Hard Knocks provided a great real-life look into the roller coaster of emotions that come along the way.
Unfortunately, this time, it came at Blough’s expense.