HBO’s “Hard Knocks” has long made for must-watch summer television. Now in its 14th season, the series has found a winning formula: capturing the intensity of NFL training camp and preseason through the perspective of a single NFL franchise and all of its players, coaches and personnel.
The true beauty of “Hard Knocks” is that it’s not about winning or losing — even teams who have failed to live up to their potential on the field still come through with compelling soundbites and hard-hitting drama.
This year, the programming gods at HBO and the NFL have blessed us with a team that is arriving at perhaps the most riveting moment in its existence, just as cameras are ready to roll and capture over 1,750 hours of footage. This 14th season of “Hard Knocks” will follow the Oakland Raiders, giving us a first-hand peek behind the silver and black curtain. Here are six reasons we’re looking forward to the season premiere at 10 p.m. EST, Tuesday, August 6th on HBO, HBO GO® and HBO On Demand.
1. The Arrival of Antonio Brown
It’s not every season that a top 3 All-Pro wide receiver lands in your locker room. And while Antonio Brown’s highlights on the field are required viewing, his big personality and willingness to let the world see his life (for better or worse) should make his arrival to Oakland a leading plotline for this season.
Judging from some of the off-season footage of Brown’s workouts (like catching footballs while having strobe lights beamed into his eyes), he’s taking the next chapter of his career very seriously. How will he get along with his new teammates, and in particular, quarterback Derek Carr? How will he mesh with head coach Jon Gruden, an equally large personality? How will the fans embrace him? We’re guessing with both arms wide open (he is Antonio Brown, after all).
2. Coach Gruden’s Sophomore Season
One of the game’s legendary personalities, Jon Gruden began his head coaching career with the Raiders over 20 years ago. After a stop in Tampa Bay and a successful tenure as a broadcaster for ESPN, Gruden returned to his professional roots for the 2018 season. His boomerang-ing back to Oakland started with a bang, as he immediately traded star linebacker Khalil Mack in a move that sent shockwaves through the league.
It’s this willingness to swing for the fences, coupled with Gruden’s knack for producing memorable and hilarious soundbites at the drop of a hat (a skill perfected during his time at ESPN), that has us on the edge of our seats waiting to see what he’ll do next.
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3. The Elephant in the Room
For the Raiders faithful, this preseason is shaping up to be very bittersweet with the franchise’s impending relocation to Las Vegas looming on the horizon. While not the first time the Raiders have moved from the Bay (the team previously moved to Los Angeles from 1982-1995), generations of fans have been raised on the Raiders as an Oakland institution.
How will this play out in training camp? We’ve seen in previous seasons how training camps are often a pilgrimage for a team’s die-hard fans, who raptly watch practice drills under the sweltering sun. Will the Raiders get a similar reaction, or will they have to deal with dissent from their fans? It will be a fascinating subplot throughout all five episodes, and one that viewers of “Hard Knocks” haven’t seen unfold in real time in any of the previous seasons.
4. A “Sideways” Training Camp?
Okay, so maybe the location of the Raiders training camp doesn’t technically qualify as a storyline, but when we heard they were heading to Napa Valley we had to make an exception.
You’d be hard pressed to find a more idyllic backdrop to the heart-pounding spectacle of watching 90 world-class athletes compete for a roster spot on a 53-man team. It’s like a built-in pressure-release valve for when things get too intense — and you know they will. Inevitable film room scuffle among coaching staff? Let’s cut to the rolling hills of Napa. On-field brawl during a heated scrimmage? Let’s see a few seconds of those lush vineyards.
And how might this perfect location be put to use during players’ downtime? Can you say rowdy wine-tasting?
5. The Beauty of the Unknown
It may be obvious, but it’s certainly worth stating that some of the most unforgettable moments of “Hard Knocks” have been the ones we don’t see coming. That’s why HBO is deploying a 30-person crew to Napa to capture it all.
Sure, it could be Brown, Carr, or Gruden providing the drama, but it could just as easily be a practice squad hopeful looking for a chance to make it onto the roster. One of the series’ strengths is how it allows audiences to become invested in the lives of not only star players, but also walk-ons who we’ve never heard of before.
6. Controversial Histories
The Raiders signed two of the more notorious personalities in the league this offseason in the form of Vontaze Burfict and Richie Incognito. Together, these players have earned their share of headlines, and not many of them have been glowing. Still, there’s always the hope of redemption on a new team, even if Burfict and Brown have an explosive shared history as headliners within the ongoing Bengals and Steelers rivalry.
So get ready, because we’ve got five weeks of heart-pounding action ahead. It’s why “Hard Knocks” is the perfect late-summer on-ramp to the NFL regular season. And no matter how unpredictable things can be, one thing is certain: It’s going to be a wild preseason in Oakland (actually, make that Napa).