DETROIT – The fourth episode of Hard Knocks featuring the Detroit Lions came with a bit of a sick twist: It focused on players battling to make the roster, while the harsh reality is that just hours earlier, we all found out most of them came up short.
Tuesday afternoon was the deadline for NFL teams to officially cut their rosters down to 53 players. The Lions announced their final cuts at 4 p.m. Click here to see that list.
Well, six hours after that deadline happened to be when the fourth episode of Hard Knocks became available. It followed players on the roster bubble as they made their last pushes to avoid that final cut.
Harsh reality of roster cuts
I thought the most humbling part of the episode was the very beginning, when Dan Campbell and Brad Holmes were solemnly moving magnets around on a white board.
“Him and him -- it’s gonna be really hard,” Holmes said. “Him. Uh, maybe him. I don’t know, probably not. The big one is him.”
In a literal sense, he’s simply moving name tags around like chess pieces. But indirectly, where those magnets ended up would have a lasting, seminal affect on the lives of more than two dozen young men.
“These players work so hard, and they’ve done so much to get ready for this moment and endure themselves through a training camp, and you have to make some tough decisions, and unfortunately, let some players go,” Holmes said. “It’s tough because there’s a human being element involved.”
For anyone following Hard Knocks, it feels like we’ve been watching Craig Reynolds, Malcolm Rodriguez, and David Blough for weeks, but it’s really only been about three hours’ worth of edited footage. Think about how much time they’ve actually put into this training camp, on top of all the preparations that come before it.
Ultimately, it all came down to Tuesday, and only 53 players could make it.
It was difficult to watch Obinna Eze give up that last sack after learning so much about his story over the last few weeks. He was one of the most heavily featured players on Hard Knocks, but before this episode aired, most Lions fans already knew he was no longer part of the team.
Kalil Pimpleton, a hometown hero from Central Michigan, didn’t make the roster, either. So while you’re watching him hang his head after dropping a touchdown pass in the preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, you can sympathize with him even more. You know the fears he was feeling in that moment became reality.
From the pained expressions on the coaches’ faces to the clear resignation from some of the players, this was by far the most emotionally charged episode of the season. Hard Knocks did a great job capturing just how difficult this part of the process can be for everyone involved.
Those glimpses into the reality of professional sports are rare and valuable.
The feel-good story of the series is Reynolds, whose storyline kicked off through a meaningful video chat with his incarcerated brother and left off with him making a child’s day by giving him his gloves.
Tuesday’s episode broke down how Reynolds earned no major scholarship offers, went to a tiny school most people have never heard of, and didn’t get drafted. He got cut from multiple teams before landing this opportunity with the Lions.
“I wouldn’t cut him,” offensive assistant John Morton said when the coaches were discussing whether to keep Reynolds on the roster. “He’s everything we represent.”
Reynolds had a strong camp and found out Tuesday that he had officially made the team. Running backs Justin Jackson and Godwin Igwebuike were cut, while D’Andre Swift, Jamaal Williams, and Jermar Jefferson joined Reynolds.
Who was Dan Campbell referencing?
You all know exactly the quote I’m talking about.
“I had f------ three ‘what the f---s?’ and three ‘bulls---s’ in the first drive alone,” Campbell said. “I don’t know what he was doing. It was bulls---, man.”
If that quote came after the preseason game against the Steelers, it had to be in reference to Tim Boyle. The favorite to earn Detroit’s backup quarterback job, Boyle self-destructed this weekend, completing just five of 15 pass attempts for 64 yards and an ugly interception.
It’s possible Campbell was talking about someone else, but Boyle is the name that popped up in most of our minds.
David Blough segment
Speaking of Boyle, he was cut Tuesday, which briefly made Blough the No. 2 quarterback behind Jared Goff.
Blough had his fair share of hiccups this preseason, and he didn’t look great against the Steelers. But he was undeniably better than Boyle, and his toughness was on display during a late touchdown drive to keep the game going.
The Lions reportedly waived Blough on Wednesday morning in favor of former Indiana quarterback Nate Sudfeld. All the Boyle vs. Blough segments of the show feel a bit meaningless now, but it sure seemed like the Lions needed to consider outside options.