Thank God for Chad Johnson. Last night, the "Look
At Me" wide receiver was the star of the first episode of Hard
Knocks: Training Camp With The Miami Dolphins on HBO.
You get the feeling the Dolphins brain trust of General Manager Jeff
Ireland and Head Coach Joe Philbin picked up the boisterous playmaker
in the off-season just to give viewers a reason to tune in because
everything else about the Dolphins is about as exciting as watching a
bed-ridden senior citizen stroke victim fill out her absentee ballot.
Even with all the hip-hop video style footage of practices, the tear-jerking scenes of an undrafted rookie getting cut on the first day of camp, and the build-up over the looming QB battle between Matt Moore, David Garrard, and first round pick Ryan Tannehill, nothing on Hard Knocks is going to come close to what the man formerly known as Ochocinco does or says while the cameras are rolling.
Here were the three most prominent story lines of the first episode:
The Miami Beach Senior High alum makes his grand entrance more than ten minutes into the episode when he waltzes into a private coaches meeting. Philbin and his subordinates look at Johnson with dumbfounded expressions.
"I don't have anybody to go home to," Johnson announces. "I am not allowed to go home."
He adds that his wife Evelyn Johnson of Vh1 Basketball Wives reality show fame doesn't want to see him until training camp is over. Philbin, who looks like your old high geometry teacher who takes the fun out of lighting firecrackers, shoots Johnson a disapproving look. The wide receiver gets the message: "Oh, this is confidential?"
"Yes, we are going to start saying bad things about you," Philbin retorts.
Later on, we see Johnson cutting on the field and stretching out his body to corral passes over the middle. "I feel good," Johnson boasts. "I feel like a cheetah. I feel black." In a one-on-one interview, Johnson explains why he only caught 15 passes as a member of the New England Patriots last year. "I took a year off to give everybody else a chance to catch up," Johnson asserts with a straight face.
He also lets the audience know he knew that Evelyn was his soulmate while playing a game on his Playstation. "If you pause Call of Duty for somebody, then she's the fucking one," he says. Johnson's climatic scene comes during a press conference in which he tells a roomful of reporters that he'll go into porn if the Dolphins cut him before the season starts in September. When the room erupts in laughter, Johnson insists he is not joking. "It's not funny," he says. "I gotta earn a living."
He is also asked what it was liked to be coached by New England's Bill Belichick last season. "I learned to shut the fuck up for a year," Johnson says. "I didn't think I could do it, but I did it."
Of course, hard-ass Philbin wanted to put Johnson in detention for dropping an F-bomb in front of the media. In a subsequent practice, the head coach basically orders Johnson to stop cussing. "We all want to be on the same page as to how we portray this organization," Philbin scolds. "I temper my comments ... You catch what I am saying?" Philbin later tells the interviewer that Johnson's spot on the team could be in jeopardy if he doesn't "fall in line."
So let's see if we get this right. The Dolphins don't have a receiving corps that is going to light the scoreboard so they bring in one of the most electrifying ball catchers in the game knowing he has a big mouth. But their stick-in-the-mud head coach is threatening to cut his ass because Johnson uses profanity? Yep, the Dolphins are sure-fire Super Bowl contenders this year.
The Quarterback Competition
For the 12th year in a row, the Dolphins enter the season searching for the heir apparent to Hall of Fame Quarterback Dan Marino. Last season's mediocre record allowed owner Stephen Ross and Ireland to use the team's first round pick on Texas A&M QB Ryan Tannehill. He's expected to compete with grizzled veterans Matt Moore (last year's starter) and Dave Garrard (who took off last season to recuperate from a herniated disk) to be the team's number one QB. Judging from the amount of minutes Hard Knocks dedicated to the trio, the three-man contest is going to be the main story line for the series.
The set up is predictable. The cameras introduce the three ball chuckers at home with their significant others. Moore and his wife are tending to their recently born daughter. Garrard is wakeboarding with his spouse and their little girl. And newlyweds Ryan and Lauren Tannehill are out walking their two dogs, Bear and Coco. These scenes are supposed to make the viewer feel empathy for the three QBs, portraying them as average Joes at home while competing for a job in the superstar athlete universe of the NFL. Cliches abound.
But one of the contenders doesn't show up for the first training camp. Tannehill is holding out for more money. The cameras pick up Philbin in his office having a speaker phone conversation with Dawn Aponte, Dolphins vice-president of football operations. "Based on our positions, Ryan will not be a Miami Dolphin this year," she says. Cue the ominous music!
Of course, the drama is resolved before the end of the episode. Tannehill shows up at training camp after 11 pm one day to let Philbin know that he's signed a contract and is ready to play. The head coach shows he is not much of a philosophy professor. "Now is the time for you to do what you are here to do," Philbin tells Tannehill.
Next, we get a healthy dose of Tannehill working out by himself and then at practice, chucking tight spirals all over the field. "I thought he threw the ball pretty well today," Philbin relays to his QB coach Zac Taylor. The producers even found a Dolfan at the team's first scrimmage who has drunk the Tannehill Kool-Aid: "He's gonna take us to the Super Bowl in two years. Mark it down. He's got the physical tools. We all believe in him."
The QB storyline in the first episode ends when Philbin walks into a meeting with his trimunivate to let them know that Garrard is listed first on the depth chart, followed by Moore and Tannehill. "In no way is this competition over," Philbin insists. "Our minds are not made up at all."
OMG! A quarterback controversy! I'm shocked!
Undrafted Rookies Derrick Dennis and Les Brown
No Hard Knocks series is complete without side story lines about the dudes struggling to make the team and fulfill their dreams of playing in the NFL. So it's no surprise that the first episode's opening scene introduces Dennis, a right guard from the University of Temple, who is going to get cut before training camp's first day. Of course, Dennis has no idea what's coming.
We watch Dennis as he walks up to his mahogany locker. He surveys his pads and his cleats. "This is pretty nice," he says. "I could get used to this." As he tells the camera that he is hoping to make the 53 man roster after spending the off season working out two times a day so he could make the team. But the Dolphins end up signing a veteran right guard before Dennis even has a chance to try on his pads. He ends up getting a hard dose of the cold-hearted nature of the pro football business.
The camera cuts to Ireland breaking the news to Dennis, whose mouth drops in disbelief.
"These are the worst kind of things on the first day of training camp is to cut someone," Ireland says. 'I want you to know you didn't do anything wrong ... I appreciate you busting your ass, I appreciate you giving it all you got, and I appreciate you being a good team guy."
Dennis softly replies: "I understand it is a business." He is last seen giving back the Dolphins playbook to an equipment manager as he is driven off in a Toyota minivan. A quick shot shows Dennis' pads being taken out of his locker.
Later on, Hard Knocks introduces Les Brown, a free agent tight end who has not played organized football since high school. He played three years of basketball at Westminster College, where he graduated from in 2010. After two years working in finance, Brown decided to try out for the Dolphins.
So far, he's been able to stay on the roster because of his athleticism and because he can run like Forrest Gump. Tight ends coach Dan Campbell raves that Brown is very coachable, but that he is a liability at both pass and run blocking. We are then treated to several shots of Brown getting obliterated by defensive lineman and linebackers. For now though, Brown's spot is safe since he has the full support of Ireland, who has a habit of taking on reclamation projects. "You go out on the street right now, to even come close to an athlete of his caliber, I don't think you will find one," Ireland gushes.
Missing In Action: Reggie Bush
He got two inconsequential scenes. The first showed him fumbling a ball after catching it in the flat. Then we got to see Bush beat Johnson at FIFA soccer on his Playstation. However, previews for next week's episode seem to focus more on the Dolphins' star running back.
In the Dog House: Vontae Davis
The Dolphins cornerback was miked up for sound so viewers got to hear loud and clear how wiped out he was during one of Philbin's grueling 75 minute practice sessions. "I am taking acting classes right now," he says. "I am acting not to look tired."
Davis' is not a very good actor because his sluggishness shows as he is beaten on a route by one of the receivers not named Chad Johnson. Defensive backs coach Lou Anarumo counsels Davis that he needs to change his attitude. "One way to do that is give better effort when you feel like you don't want to," Anarumo says.
Later, Philbin is caught on camera complaining that Davis left the practice field to go take a leak. At the following practice, Philbin calls the cornerback out: "Vontae get moving. Did you get your bladder taken care of today? Yeah, yeah, very good."
Odds and ends:
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The series is narrated by Liev Schrieber, whose deep voice adds to the drama, but Hard Knocks script writers really need to tone down the cliches. For example, when Moore reveals he is a big fan of the ABC show The Bachelorette, Schrieber intones: "Matt Moore knows all about reality competitions. Besides being Miami's starting quarterback last season, he enters this year in a three-man race for the job." It's the kind of sappy prose that makes you just want to chuck the pigskin at Schrieber's head.
Although we would like to see more gratuitous montages of the Dolphins cheerleaders in future episodes. That's all the Hard Knocks for this week. Tune in next Tuesday for the episode two recap.