'Hard Knocks' Power Rankings: Antonio Brown's gross feet and helmet saga loom large, but ultimately disappoint as Gruden steals the show
Who stole the show in episode two? We've got your rankings
It doesn't feel like an exaggeration to say that this week's episode of "Hard Knocks: Training Camp With the Oakland Raiders" felt like one of the most anticipated installments of the HBO series in a long time. That's not so much because really knocked it out of the park -- it was just OK -- but rather primarily due to Antonio Brown nearly freezing his feet straight off while also contemplating retirement rather than wearing a different helmet.
If those aren't a couple of storylines that get your blood pumping in anticipation of some all-access behind-the-scenes footage, then what are we even doing here?
Well, Tuesday brought the second episode of the show and it wasted no time in putting AB's drama front and center, but did it live up to the anticipation? Did we have to look at those trash-ass frozen feet? Was there a passionate love scene between Brown and his Schutt Air Advantage? Did any other storylines or characters really matter in episode two?
All of those questions are ready to be answered with another edition of our "Hard Knocks" Power Rankings. Let's dig into the winners and losers from this week's show.
8. Sean McVay
So this is a pretty way to kick things off this week but the Rams head coach had a pretty prominent role in episode two because 1) the Raiders and Rams had a couple joint practices, and 2) McVay used to work under Raiders head coach Jon Gruden while he was with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and looked like this:
That was 11 years ago, and it's safe to say that time has been pretty kind to McVay, though the Rams coach is still only 33 years old. However, it's worth noting that time has also been pretty kind to Gruden, as it looks like this picture of him could have been taken yesterday.
In any case, it was cool to see footage Gruden and McVay interacting on the practice field both back then and now. It sort of serves as a reminder of how crazy McVay's ascension in the NFL ranks is; just over a decade ago he was a "piss boy" straight out of college, and now he's the head coach of the reigning NFC champions and is arguably more respected than the guy he used to be an assistant under.
The viewers probably enjoyed that revelation more than Gruden did.
7. The quarterbacks
Last week, plenty of time was spent on Raiders starting quarterback Derek Carr, who came off as during the premiere. Maybe it's because we had a better idea of what to expect in episode two, but Carr was a little more palatable and didn't seem as unnatural during his scenes this week.
That being said, I'm growing increasingly convinced that this season of Hard Knocks is just one big, elaborate production designed to convince us all that yes, Derek Carr has a wife. This guy loves talking about and showing off his wife at any given opportunity, even if he has to invent the opportunity. "Oh, the most nervous I've ever been? No doubt proposing to my wife, who I'm married to. Definitely my wife. My wife. *Borat voice* Mah wiiiiiiife." Carr is the Chance The Rapper of football.
Also, how about this flex during a conversation with Hunter Renfrow, who played in three National Championship games at Clemson? (Granted, he did play about 15 seasons with the Tigers, but still.)
Sidebar: Speaking of Renfrow, it's time for our Bad Hair check-in of the week.
Tough look for a 23-year-old, though we all found out last week that he's outkicking his coverage regardless, so whatever.
This week we got to meet the backup quarterbacks behind Carr, which can only mean one thing: Nathan. Peterman.
The Peter-Man got plenty of time to shine, though HBO did him dirty by introducing him with a recap of his five-interception debut with the Bills last season. Luckily, we got to wash down the bitter taste of that performance with some pure elegance during his preseason debut with the Raiders.
In all honesty, neither Peterman or Mike Glennon seem to be bringing particularly interesting personalities to the show, at least not yet. Right now their greatest contributions seem to be pissing off Gruden, who has not hesitated to roast them from the sidelines. For that reason, we cannot allow them to succeed.
6. Brent Musberger
The Raiders' new radio play-by-play guy made his Hard Knocks debut this week and you're a fool if you didn't think he was breaking out his best shirt for the occasion.
5. Training camp fights
Training camp fights are a staple of the NFL preseason -- a time-honored tradition, if you will. It didn't take long for things to get physical with the Raiders, as they threw down multiple times during one of their joint practices with the Rams during this episode.
They were pretty standard camp skirmishes with nothing too out of the ordinary -- just a bunch of angry sweaty guys getting frustrated and attempting to throw punches into helmets. Always genius stuff.
On second thought, one thing was quite out of the ordinary: Richie Incognito playing the role of level-headed peacemaker.
Every great TV show needs an unexpected twist.
4. Antonio Brown
Alright, here we are. As previously noted, Brown's off-the-field drama was obviously the most intriguing draw of this episode coming in, and things got off to a pretty good start when took off his socks and showed us his disgusting feet less than five minutes into the episode.
Off and running -- though not too fast because those feet still hurt quite a bit. Luckily, AB was ready to provide all a breakdown of his issue like a true medical professional.
That was about all we got out of AB before he left training camp, which was a bit disappointing. Part of me was hoping there would somehow be footage of the cryotherapy mishap that turned his feet into something out of "The Walking Dead" (literally), but no such luck.
He made his way back into the picture when the helmet saga came up about halfway through the episode, though we didn't get any behind-the-scenes footage of that ordeal playing out. Instead, we were given a news clip laying out the issue and that's about it. No footage of Brown protesting. No behind-the-scenes look at any significant internal reactions from Gruden, Mike Mayock or anyone else on the Raiders' staff.
In total, about a minute of airtime was dedicated to the helmet storyline, which is pretty insane. As soon as it hit the news, everyone got excited to see it play out on this week's episode, and for good reason. It's perhaps the most preposterous "Hard Knocks" drama that has been gifted to HBO in a long time, and they seriously dropped the ball by not delivering anything noteworthy this week.
They either failed to cash in a golden entertainment nugget or they decided to save the real juicy stuff for next episode, but either way it was a big-time letdown that Brown didn't provide more theater this week.
3. Keelan Doss
"Hard Knocks" typically loves to focus on a few bubble players each year, and for good reason. Those guys usually help provide some drama to the show because stakes are the highest for them -- they're fighting tooth and nail to keep the football dream alive...fighting for a job...fighting for a consistent paycheck. HBO often does a good job of convincing viewers to get emotionally invested in their stories and to root for those guys to make the cut.
Judging from episode two, undrafted rookie wide receiver Keelan Doss is going to be one of those guys this year. Plenty of shine was dedicated to Doss and the fact that he's a Bay Area native getting a shot with his hometown team, and he seems to be doing well with the opportunity. Gruden labeled him a practice standout and his first catch went for a short touchdown in the Raiders' preseason game against Los Angeles.
This week's episode ended with Doss visiting his former stomping grounds at UC Davis and he seems to be one of the very few super likable characters introduced on the show thus far. If I had to guess, we're probably going to be seeing a lot more of him moving forward.
2. Jon Gruden
Despite a pretty decent showing out of the gate, Gruden didn't make last week's Power Rankings. However, this week he really brought the heat, and most of that heat involved him ripping into his own players. The backup quarterbacks got the brunt of the abuse this week and it was a real sight to behold (NSFW language).
Gruden is known for being a player's coach but it's clear that he's not afraid to tear them down a bit either, though it's typically followed by him trying to find a way to build them back up.
Jury's still out on whether or not he's leading the Raiders in the right direction, but at the very least he's a million times more entertaining than last year's featured head coach in Cleveland. Hue Jackson basically spent the entire season wandering around reciting clichés he'd read in a football book and looking surprised his key card to the facilities still worked.
Gruden also has a much better vocabulary.
We all knew Gruden would be a big-time entertainer this year and he's starting to deliver.
1. Maxx Crosby
Crosby was the biggest standout in episode two, for multiple reasons. The first is that he arrived on the scene by absolutely dominating Hunter Renfrow in a matchup of rookie karaoke. While Renfrow bombed and was basically booed off stage during a performance of "Lean On Me," Crosby seized the spotlight with a pretty smooth rendition of "Buy You A Drank." That's one hell of a way to grab my attention.
We got to know Crosby -- a defensive end taken in the fourth round of this year's draft -- a little more as he got some work done at a tattoo parlor, but the real crux of the episode came when he broke his hand during the first preseason game. That unfortunate development gave us a behind-the-scenes look at what players go through when they suffer an injury during a game, and it was pretty damn interesting television.
We witnessed Crosby realize that something was wrong, then followed him to the sideline before he ultimately headed to the locker room to meet with the team's medical staff. We got to eavesdrop on that conversation and hear the two sides work out a solution, which ultimately became Crosby putting on a cast and returning to the game.
While it may not seem like the most riveting bit of action, it's arguably one of the best things about Hard Knocks. The show introduces us to these players and then allows us a glimpse into their lives, both on and off the field, to a degree that we wouldn't otherwise get. This week's Crosby experience was pretty much a perfect summation of what makes the show tick.
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