This annual staple has a new wrinkle. The following players promise not only to grab and keep the fans’ interest throughout training camp and the preseason, but also star while receiving a large dose of attention from the “Hard Knocks” cameras.
HBO’s Emmy Award-winning series will chronicle every step of training camp in five weekly episodes starting Aug. 7.
NFL Films will have 120 production staff assigned to “Hard Knocks,” 32 members of the crew will live with the team in Berea and 20 cameras will shoot 1,750 hours of football.
Here are 10 players (and a coach) you’ll be reading about and watching after camp opens Thursday.
Tyrod Taylor, quarterback
You didn’t really expect me to start with a backup quarterback, did you?
Taylor deserves everyone’s attention, because barring an injury, or perhaps a transcendent preseason performance by No. 1 pick Baker Mayfield, the team’s fortunes will ride on the right arm and legs of Taylor.
He’s credible as a player and leader and is determined to keep the starting job for the season and earn another big contract here or elsewhere. He has plenty of personality for the cameras to capture.
Taylor loves fashion, isn’t shy on social media and spent the end of the summer break leading workouts in California.
He’s more than likely not the future of the Browns but he’s certainly their present.
Josh Gordon, receiver
It’s an overstatement to say the improvement of the offense is dependent on Gordon living up to his potential. But it’s not much of a stretch.
Which is why Gordon’s announcement Monday that he’ll miss the start of training camp as part of his “overall health and treatment plan” is a major concern.
Taylor’s history says he’ll provide the steady play that’s been missing at quarterback. Gordon’s history, and present, show it’s a crapshoot to rely on him as the No. 1 wideout. But that’s what the Browns need if the offense is going to take the huge leap many expect.
Gordon flashed his All-Pro form in the final five games last season after returning from an indefinite suspension that cost him more than two seasons, but the rust was obvious. He had a full offseason to focus on football and the Browns believe he’s done the right things.
Gordon, who’s stronger than ever, upped the ante with his proclamation Cleveland has the most talented receiving corps in the NFL. The claim was clearly premature for a team whose receivers totaled 134 catches, 1,801 yards and seven touchdowns last year, and for it to ring remotely true Gordon must play like the top-five receiver he can be.
Expect to hear about his checkered past, transformation and relationship with his daughter on “Hard Knocks” … assuming he shows up before the show leaves town.
Myles Garrett, defensive end
Not the No. 1 overall pick you were looking for? This one should have a much bigger impact in 2018.
Garrett was everything promised in camp last season then suffered a high ankle sprain in practice before the opener. Never completely healthy, he had seven sacks, 31 tackles, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a pass defensed in 11 games as a rookie.
He wasn’t satisfied and neither were the Browns.
“The best quality is availability, so I have to be out there, I have to be present and I know that my presence definitely changes the flow of the game and I feel like I can be a big impact every time I’m out there,” Garrett said last month.
All involved expect a breakout season, which would give the Browns defense a pass-rushing dimension it hasn’t had in too many years to count. The journey starts in the opener vs. Pittsburgh, as Garrett hopes to finally get a shot at Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, whom he didn’t face as a rookie and remains driven to sack.
Until then, the cameras will likely show Garrett discussing dinosaurs, reading poetry and terrorizing whichever left tackle candidate lines up in front of him.
Jarvis Landry, receiver
He joined Taylor as the first significant additions by general manager John Dorsey, then signed a five-year, $75 million contract. He brings an exciting combination of performance and personality that should make him a favorite of fans and “Hard Knocks” producers.
Landry had 400 catches and three Pro Bowl appearances in four years in Miami and was voted No. 52 in NFL Network’s countdown of the league’s top 100 players. He wasn’t satisfied.
Not even close.
“My goal is to eventually be No. 1,” he said.
His acrobatic, one-handed catches will be fun to watch in the summer heat.
Denzel Ward, cornerback
Ward, the No. 4 pick, cracked the starting lineup by OTAs and is expected to hold down the role for the foreseeable future. He brought elite speed from Ohio State and has already shown the willingness and ability to battle with Gordon and Landry.
He won’t seek media attention but his glamour position and background (Nordonia High, OSU) will keep him in the spotlight. So will Dorsey’s decision to take Ward instead of pass rusher Bradley Chubb.
Austin Corbett, offensive lineman
Exactly which rookie does everyone think I’m going to include?
Corbett was the No. 33 pick out of Nevada despite not having a defined position in the NFL. The front office said he’s worth it because eventually he’ll be a quality long-term starter somewhere among the line and his toughness and attitude translate to the NFL.
But the only hole on the line is at left tackle, and it’s a biggie, so the investment of such a high pick would look a lot wiser if Corbett wins that job. He started at the position for four years in college but will have to prove he can compensate for a lack of ideal height and arm length (6-foot-4, 33 inches).
He’s already married, and “Hard Knocks” likes to show young couples entering the NFL.
Joe Schobert, middle linebacker
Schobert’s been on a roll. He took over the starting job last year, played every snap and made the Pro Bowl as an alternate. He got married over the break.
He’s an intriguing player heading into his third season.
He was a fourth-round pick so not much was expected of him, and his “average Joe,” nerdy persona makes him easy to overlook. But he’s one of the most athletic players on the team — watch videos of him dunking a basketball — works hard and is intelligent. But he made mistakes getting the defense in the right call last year and didn’t make enough impact plays, despite a league-high 144 tackles.
The signing of free agent Mychal Kendricks will take snaps from one of the holdover linebackers, but Schobert has already proved he can beat the odds.
David Njoku, tight end
The camera loves Njoku. Or maybe he loves the camera.
Njoku lives to show off his work in the gym, and it’s a safe bet his abs make an appearance on “Hard Knocks.” After all, he practices with his jersey rolled up and goes topless as often as allowed.
Wardrobe aside, this is a big year for the former receiver drafted No. 29 in 2017. His talent was obvious as a rookie — 32 catches, 386 yards, four touchdowns — but consistency was lacking. He should get plenty of opportunities this season as the defense focuses elsewhere. He needs to take advantage.
Jabrill Peppers, strong safety
Another first-round pick in 2017 looking for a breakthrough season, Peppers is making a position change.
That’s a good thing.
The playmaker at Michigan was too far from the ball last year at free safety to have the desired impact. With the arrival of Damarious Randall, Peppers is free to switch to strong safety, where he’ll be near the line of scrimmage and in position to make plays and use his talent.
Peppers must hold off run stuffer Derrick Kindred for playing time on early downs, but his athleticism will allow coordinator Gregg Williams to use him in a variety of roles.
Peppers is engaging as a talker and could steal the show on HBO.
Baker Mayfield, quarterback
I was only teasing earlier. Mayfield certainly belongs on this list, and would be much higher if “Hard Knocks” was the only consideration.
Mayfield is an exciting, interesting player with a large fan following, and many eyes — and lenses — will be focused on him. He’s the Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 pick in the draft despite being a two-time walk-on and shorter than 6-1.
He’s already given NFL Films plenty to chronicle with a summer wedding engagement, ESPY win for Best College Athlete and offseason workouts with teammates.
Mayfield’s time as Browns starter is coming but he’ll be the backup in camp. Watching him handle the role will be intriguing, as will the scenes from the offensive meeting rooms. Rookie quarterbacks have been known to look silly trying to keep up with the veterans. The Browns expect Mayfield to be different.
Hue Jackson, coach
The TV series is sure to open with Jackson’s jump into Lake Erie to cleanse the organization of its 1-31 stretch. At least part of the show’s focus must be on Jackson’s uncertain future with the team.
It was a surprise he survived the change at the top of the personnel department last year, but owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam continue to profess their faith in Jackson. That will be tested — and perhaps broken — if progress isn’t seen in camp and especially the first month of the season.
Jackson has charisma in front of the cameras that was clear in his earlier “Hard Knocks” appearance with the Bengals. This edition will be a good chance for him to make strides with Browns fans convinced he’s not the man for the job.