As July prepares to step aside for August, the thoughts and expectations of NFL fans will continue to come into sharper focus. Just like Spring Training, summer camp is a time for eternal optimists to spread their fairy dust around even the most dismal landscapes.
Speaking of dismal, it’s almost time for HBO’s Hard Knocks to debut again. And this season, our treat will be a deep dive into the abyss otherwise known as the Cleveland Browns.
If you have never watched Hard Knocks, you likely have no budget for HBO or no interest to peek inside the skin of the coaches, players and front offices the show tends to peel back.
A recap: The series debuted in 2001 with a look at the Baltimore Ravens and the 2018 installment is its 13th. If you dig the voice of actor Liev Schreiber, its narrator, you will love it more than apparently many NFL teams do.
Getting league teams to consent to being hounded by HBO’s cameras for a month has been a major problem for the NFL. In 2013, the 49ers, Falcons, Seahawks, Texans and Redskins stamped their feet before the Bengals finally gave in.
Things got so contentious that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell finally had to intervene by announcing the league would utilize a rotation that would eventually require the camera-shy franchises to suck it up.
So after the 2013 fiasco, the NFL set up a system that would force a team, with three exceptions, to participate if no one else volunteered. A team could be excused it they had appeared at least once in the last decade, had a first-year coach or had reached the postseason in either of the two preceding seasons.
In 2017, the Buccaneers drew the short straw. In 2018, the viewer gets the short straw.
Perhaps that’s too cynical a statement. After all, it could potentially be quite entertaining to graph the evolution of a franchise that has had two winning seasons since 1999, was 0-16 last year and is 1-31 over the last two, in High Definition.
What makes the Browns particularly interesting this season is the presence of quarterback Baker Mayfield, the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft.
Mayfield’s sometimes acerbic personality has already been dissected to death. As they say, the kid beats to the sound of own drummer; a distaste for modern convention and authority figures, prone to impulsive action and commentary.
And things have already started to get interesting involving the power play that inevitably takes place among those seeking access (HBO) and those denying it (the Browns).
Mayfield and his buddies in the QB frat house have told HBO it will not be allowed into the recreational vehicle the players use as their sanctuary on the training camp grounds in Berea, Ohio.
“Privacy in my home,” Mayfield explained.
It essentially is Mayfield’s home because veteran Drew Stanton told him to secure it before training camp began. Mayfield told USA Today it was one of the “commandments” passed down to him by the veteran during organized team workouts this spring.
Stanton said he got the idea when he was with the Lions and Shaun Hill, the big man on campus at the time, told Matthew Stafford to make sure he drove something similar in when he reported to his first training camp.
So when Mayfield, Stanton and Tyrod Taylor are in there playing Fortnite or Scrabble, making themselves a few grilled cheese sandwiches, no one else will be allowed in.
“There are no secret meetings or anything,” Stanton promised.
You wonder if the ban extends to Browns legends (and we use the word advisedly) Tim Couch and Bernie Kosar? They have been hanging out at practice this week since both will have a role in the telecasts of the team’s preseason games.
Hey, let’s hear it for the boys who have drawn a line in the sand.
The Athletic is already reporting that HBO’s presence at training camp is similar to the invasion of an army. The network has a conference room at the facility, three trailers and a tent inside an adjacent site.
Worse yet, and this is based on personal experience at New York Giants training camp, all their cameramen and technicians will likely make the line at the soft serve ice cream machine at lunch time entirely intolerable.
Only on HBO.