“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 there’s a case to be made that Episode 3 was the most entertaining yet. OK, who are we kidding? It definitely was, if only because the pads finally came out and football finally felt like it was back.

Who stood out this time around? Let’s dive right in with our latest round of “Hard Knocks” power rankings:

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Just missed the cut: Jalen Ramsey, Dont’e Deayon and his clown laugh, JuJu Hughes and his toothpick

This isn’t Ramsey’s fault. The guy is born to be a TV star. If he’s not a centerpiece of Episode 4, we riot. Deayon, meanwhile, got some airtime again but apparently exhausted his laughing-gas supply last week. Hughes, a Rams rookie, made his big debut this week along with the surprising revelation that he’s kept a toothpick in his mouth for … seven straight years? Not bad, but we need more.

7. Sentimental shots

We had Clay Johnston, the Rams rookie, appearing as a baby in an old picture, with Brett Favre, of all people, palming him and pretending to throw him like a football. We had Chargers cornerback Chris Harris lifting his own baby in front of an L.A. sunset. Were we going for the Emmy this time around, boys?

Last week: Unranked

6. The drill sergeant Chargers coach

Phil McGeoghan is his name, and he was responsible for kicking off Episode 3 with some juice. The leader of L.A.’s wide receivers group, Phil didn’t hold back from ripping his guys apart during film sessions. It’s always a little hard to tell how much these coaches are playing it up for the cameras, but the longer he went on, the more serious he got.

“This game ain’t played on Instagram,” he barked. “Your job’s on the line, f—ers.”

Look, I’m never going to be an NFL wide receiver, and all of my bones would almost assuredly shatter upon contact with a full-speed Derwin James, but it was hard not to be a little fired up and ready to prove Coach Phil wrong after his tirade on blocking.

Last week: Unranked

5. Tyrod Taylor is alive!

That’s right, boys and girls! The Los Angeles Chargers have a quarterback! In all seriousness, Taylor finally got a chance to confirm his role on the team in Episode 3, and while even coach Anthony Lynn openly declared his guy an introvert, we got to see a hint of personality this time around. Mic’d up during practice, Taylor didn’t hold back about a particular off-field issue: “Shoot, while they got me hot, go ahead and arrest the cops that killed Breonna Taylor. See if ya’ll post that one.”

Taylor, by the way, wasn’t the only Charger to advocate for social justice during the episode. Melvin Ingram gave a brief tour of a studio where he doubles as a recording artist and spit some related lyrics: “Corona, then George Floyd, we in a transition. Black beautiful queen Breonna Taylor, say her name and listen.”

Last week: 5

4. Clay Johnston and Papa Favre

The rookie Rams linebacker, who endeared himself to us all by using “Fudge!” as a repeat expletive during his Episode 2 showcase, was back again as a main character. Turns out Johnston’s dad, Kent, was the best man at Brett Favre’s wedding. So of course Favre joined the show for a quick Zoom-call cameo, capped with Johnston and his quirky self calling the Packers legend “Papa Favre.”

As for Johnston, the LB was still overly hard on himself during actual practice but remained a joy while joyful, letting out a “I’m gonna freakin’ play my nuts off!” during a draft-day flashback.

Last week: 4

3. Sean McVay

He probably doesn’t deserve to be this high after such a limited appearance, but man, I’ve fallen hard for this Jon Gruden act. One line, in particular, sealed this week’s performance: “Hit that horn,” he hollered, signaling a transition during an important practice, only to have his assistant use a fizzling air horn. “HIT THAT HORN!” he repeated, getting another dud, before closing it out without breaking stride: “GOTTA GET A NEW HORN!” You had to be there.

Last week: 2

2. That smoothie guy

Rams guard David Andrews was minding his own business during a team meeting, slurping up the last of a smoothie, when he got a little too cute with the straw and accidentally flung it toward his face. What followed was even better: Andrews spent a good 20 seconds quietly scanning the entire room for the “Hard Knocks” camera crew, desperate to verify his blunder wasn’t documented.

Even after he finally caught a glimpse of the lens trained on him and tried to play it off, you could tell Andrews was going to be haunted for a while. No one stares into an empty smoothie cup with such loathsome self-awareness.

Side note: Why are the best scenes of each episode always during the closing credits?

Last week: Unranked

1. Pads

This is so cliche, but who cares? The crack of real pads in real, live football practice breathed life into this series, maybe because it was one of the surest signs yet that the NFL season is really, actually just around the corner. Coupled with the bright blue glow of the Rams’ new uniforms, the pure sight and sound of tackling was enough to get the adrenaline pumping at least a little.

Maybe this sport really is popular for its primal physicality. We’re barbarians! And we love it!

Last week: Unranked

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