"Hard Knocks" returned on Tuesday night with another inside look at the dual Los Angeles training camps taking place in the run-up to the 2020 NFL season, and things took a very different turn in Episode 4. Whereas the first three episodes were focused almost exclusively on camp hijinks, roster battles and COVID protocols, this week put a big spotlight on the NFL's off-field endeavors -- specifically renewed team movements for social justice.
How did Episode 4 stack up against the rest of the season? Who stood out this time around? Let's get right into it with our latest edition of "Hard Knocks" power rankings:
4. Austin Ekeler's hops
From a purely football standpoint, Episode 4 was pretty dry. In fact, not even the couple of Rams roster cuts put on display carried much dramatic weight. But the one true highlight of an overlong segment on Chargers running backs hurling themselves over bags to prove their athleticism was actually impressive. Ekeler is a small-looking 5-foot-10, but he cleared at least five bags -- just imagine a really high hurdle -- to remind us why he deserves the No. 1 RB gig in L.A.
3. Justin Herbert's arm
The first-round pick wasn't dazzling for the entirety of his appearance, but it's clear the "Hard Knocks" crew favors him over Tyrod Taylor, who's locked in as the team's Opening Day starting quarterback. That paid off during one sequence in which Herbert rifled a couple of beauties to make up for a poor practice the day prior. Herbert may or may not be franchise QB material, but when the Chargers' wide receivers room broke down film of his best throw of the day, it wasn't hard to crave more of the rookie's arm.
2. Breiden Fehoko's warrior dance
By Episode 4, we know that most of the feel-good roster-bubble stories are, well, just that. But if you watched the segment on Fehoko and didn't come away fully expecting him to make the Chargers -- and feel great about it -- then shame on you. The undrafted LSU nose tackle got some rave remarks from veterans like Linval Joseph and Melvin Ingram, who seemed eager to coach up the rookie. But he brought the house all the way down with a ceremonial Polynesian dance that made like an ancient battle cry.
The best part about it wasn't just Fehoko's genuine intensity but how fired up all his Chargers teammates were to participate. There's a reason coach Anthony Lynn's response was: "He just made the team! He just made the team!"
1. The Jacob Blake response
This was by and large the focus of Episode 4, starting with a cold opening unlike any other this season (and, perhaps, the entire history of the series) -- Rams coach Sean McVay watching video of the Kenosha, Wisconsin, police shooting of Jacob Blake. There's a case to be made that this series has deserved far more on-field insight and locker-room drama, but "Hard Knocks" embraced the jarring tonal shift this week to really put us in the shoes of players and coaches affected by the latest round of racial unrest in America. In other words, it may have been unique and unexpected, but Episode 4 knew exactly what it wanted to be: A response.
From peeks inside social justice committee meetings, where Rams and Chargers personnel debated whether or not to cancel practices amid sports-wide protests over Blake's shooting; to a locker-room venting session in place of the Chargers' recently cancelled scrimmage, the most powerful moments of Episode 4 came when we were forced to share in the struggles of these teams -- these men who often bask in celebrity status but have very clearly felt the weight and human struggle of the present moment.
"We are football players, we're not politicians," Chargers assistant head coach George Stewart pleaded during the venting session. "But it's up to us to speak our damn platform."
Whether it was Rams WR Robert Woods insisting L.A. do something rather than cancel practice and go home, or an emotionally moved Tyrod Taylor summoning teammates for discussions on how to proceed, or Anthony Lynn declaring to a locker room full of heavy and heartbroken faces that his team was not in the "head-space" to play football, this was at least the most unifying, if stirring, storyline of 2020 "Hard Knocks" to date.