With only two episodes left, Hard Knocks finally gave us some drama that didn’t involve injuries. This episode focused on roster cuts as their squad was brought down from 90 to 75 players.
Early on in the show, Special Teams Coach Keith Armstrong laid into several players for their shoddy play while reviewing the Houston film, including Hard Knocks regulars Jacques Smith and Devonta Freeman. With Freeman, it was well deserved; his lousy block on punt coverage had to give Matt Ryan chills at the thought of Freeman dealing with any type of blitz while in the backfield this season. As for Smith, Armstrong echoed the sentiments of many SEC fans who watched Smith while he was with the Vols when he told him, “You ‘aint good enough to be an asshole.” Armstrong’s speeches should have weekly spots on this show.
While Armstrong’s vitriol clearly had an effect on many of the players on special teams, Smith didn’t listen. He stupidly threw a punch after the whistle on a Titans’ touchdown and got himself tossed from the game. Even with the Falcons’ injuries at linebacker, plays like that are putting him square on the bubble with Tyler Starr and his endless supply of hats and doo-rags.
Along with Armstrong, Brian Cox continued his star turn on the show with his persistent riding of talented but inconsistent defensive tackle Ra’shede Hageman. Whether it was during conditioning drills, film study, or during the game, Cox hasn’t let up on Hageman all pre-season, using enough F-Bombs to fill a Tarantino script. But you can see why when you watch Hageman play. When he is motivated, he has the power and quickness of a young Kris Jenkins, but when faced with adversity, he sulks, and it shows in his conditioning and his play. Those types of players drive self-made ex-players like Cox mad; all potential, no heart.
And I know you have heard this before, but Cox has blown away the competition as the most entertaining and quotable personality on Hard Knocks. Last week he brought “Black Moses” into the lexicon when he warned players to avoid his daughter and then claimed that he lost his virginity when he was only 10 years old – completely believable only because it is Brian Cox. This week he once again had the quote of the night when he referred to his defensive lineman as “standing at the line of scrimmage, holding each other’s dick.” If HBO just followed Cox around with a camera for five weeks, this show would have won an Emmy.
Mike Smith continued his weekly contribution of bringing the show to a screeching halt by giving yet another boring lecture about not making mistakes and playing smart football. Thank god for the assistant coaches Cox, Tice, Robiskie, and Armstrong, because between Smith’s snore-inducing speeches and Dimitroff being an expensive eyewear model for four episodes, this show would be unwatchable without them.
The Hard Knocks director must agree that Smith has this effect on viewers, since they have consistently followed his mid-show speeches with training montages and musical interludes, and last night were so desperate for material that they showed five minutes of footage of a thunderstorm. Wow, a rainstorm in the South, I’ve never seen that before. Well done HBO.
It took Jacques Smith’s boneheaded play and Matt Ryan sustaining a late hit to get Coach Smith to finally let out a little emotion, but I must say that other than Joe Hawley, nobody really came to Ryan’s defense. The one time that a fight is excusable in a game is when your leader is a victim of a cheap shot. If one of Tice’s young linemen went after the Titans after that hit, he would have been hard to cut next week.
When cuts happened, the only players released that had any screen time were backup Quarterback Jeff Mathews -who may be the most inarticulate Ivy Leaguer since George W. Bush- and linebacker Brenden Daley, whose only moment of note came last week when he joined Levine Toilolo poolside with ukuleles singing the worst slow jams in recorded history.
Despite the Falcons vocal attempt to eliminate their soft image this off-season, they haven’t been afraid to show their softer side; lots of singing, Freeman’s foot massage, and Joe Hawley’s skillful pottery demonstration actually injected a bit of personality into the show.
Speaking of Hawley, forgive me for asking my re-cap partner a personal question, but is Joe Hawley getting a bad rap with his teammates’ criticism of his oral hygiene?
Next week will definitely have some drama with the final roster cuts. Hard Knocks regulars like Tyler Starr, Jacques Smith, Cupcake Rumph and “Amsterdam” Boldewijn are all in danger of the dreaded phone call to see Coach Smith and bring their playbook.
See you next week for the finale, and follow me on Twitter @chayesesq.