I have to admit, last night I was watching "Hard Knocks" with unabated excitement but also a twinge of jealousy. I get to cover the Texans as part of the organization: interviewing players and coaches, traveling with the team, entering the locker rooms, watching practice. It was more access to the team than most everyone.
Everyone, except for the "Hard Knocks" crew.
Before "Hard Knocks" even began filming, meeting rooms were mic'd up. Production and audio rooms were set up. Once training camp began, the NFL Films and "Hard Knocks" crew filmed meetings, huddles, and followed players into their homes. They were now privy to conversations and events as they unfolded, stuff that was normally off-limits to the media.
After seeing "Hard Knocks," I felt…entertained and yet relieved. It showed what we already knew, but now in glorious high-definition.
We now had the extra puzzle pieces in the puzzle, the final number in a lock combination. We had the gaps in a story where we already knew the plot and characters.
So, now that Episode One is out, I wanted to share my John Harris–like observations. It seemed like Texans fans couldn't get enough of "Hard Knocks." Our live chat immediately following the show was the second-highest viewed chat on HoustonTexans.com. (Seriously, what was the first? Kidding!)
So in no particular order, here we go.
1. Bill O'Brien is no-nonsense, smart, and intense, but also very funny
What you see is what you get. O'Brien is calculated but one can see what is really important to him: teamwork, winning, hard work, and Rick Ross.
As part of a team-building exercise, O'Brien quizzed rookies on their teammates. He applies the same rules to himself. During the stretching period in practice, he singles out several players to talk to each day. He wants to know the guys playing for him and for them to know him. After all, players will put forth the extra effort for a head coach they know, like, and respect. Right?
As for as the colorful language, I don't think the coaches realize how much they do it. Even for those covering the team, it became part of the daily vernacular and faded into the background over the course of a season. After last night's show, I was asked if O'Brien played up the expletives for the camera.
My answer? No way, but you'll probably see less of it now that his Irish-Catholic mother has seen the show.
**2. J.J. Watt really does work that hard
Fans also frequently asked if J.J. Watt practicing late at night was a staged scene.
In fact, there were many days this offseason that Watt was practicing late when he was training in Houston. One night in particular, I was hosting an event in the Houston Methodist Training Center for mothers. Watt wandered over after his workout and watched the Q and A session from the audience. He stuck around and gave some advice to the moms whose kids were playing football and then went on his way.
Watt works out early, stays late, signs autographs, and gives interviews. I will hear women and grown men screaming for J.J. Watt even in my sleep long after camp has ended. He works hard and seems to genuinely appreciate the fame and attention that results.
3. Arian Foster's injury did play out with some surprises
When Foster walked off the field Monday, August 3, he was accompanied by the team physician Walter Lowe and head athletic trainer Geoff Kaplan. He seemed…fine. It was such non-scene that most people at practice missed it.
I found it interesting to see O'Brien reaction to Kap's news of Foster tweaking his groin. O'Brien stepped out of coaching mode to show his genuine disappointment for his star running back and discussed it with the team the next day too. He then quickly turned it into a motivational moment for the team. O'Brien watches ESPN and wasn't too happy with their analysis of the Texans offense without Foster, it appears.
Another interesting footnote was how other players learned of the news. Twitter? Text? Sometimes NFL players get their news about their teammates in the same way we do.
4. Romeo Crennel is tough. Don't let that smiling exterior and friendly demeanor fool you
I'd heard stories of RAC being super particular with how he likes his players to do things on the field. I'd always seen him in practice, but compared to Mike Vrabel and O'Brien, Crennel seemed pretty mild-mannered in his coaching personality. That was absolutely not the case as he read the riot act to a defense that many say is the best in the NFL heading into 2015.
5. Don't get on Mike Vrabel's bad side
He looks like he could take the field today and start playing. I've seen him joking around with Brian Cushing and some of the veterans occasionally, but he's all business. He doesn't like anything that doesn't embody toughness. He'll compare your weak attempts at pass rushing to throwing marshmallows. Today, I clocked him just one play into practice before he launched a string of expletives at a player who missed a play because he was facing the wrong way.
6. Wilfork is a tremendous athlete
Seeing him play basketball was outstanding. I want to see Wilfork excel at a new sport each week. I'm sure he can do anything. Also, Bianca Wilfork is amazing. I've seen her around practice but haven't had the nerve to strike up a conversation. Everyone needs a Bianca in their corner. I want one too.
7. DeAndre Hopkins doesn't like to be touched, especially after the play
Hopkins has an intensity and quiet confidence about him. He keeps a chip on his shoulder which adds to his competitiveness. He won't start anything but he'll definitely finish it. I can't wait to see next week's episode where he goes shopping. In the past, I've randomly run into him at the Galleria inconspicuously window shopping among the masses. He's definitely not going to be able to do that anymore.
8. Rookie Kevin Johnson is getting noticed by veterans
I especially like the conversations with Watt and Rahim Moore. We in the media have noticed him too. He's got a great sense of humor and quick wit. I hope he gets a car soon. His Uber bill is going to be astronomical living in Houston.
9. I always wondered what Kareem Jackson and Johnathan Joseph are talking about during practice
They are probably among the most well-liked guys on the team and are pretty entertaining, in my opinion. Plus, who can forget Joseph's final line, "Let's get the (bleep) out of Richmond." I felt the same way, J-Jo.
10. Can we see more Brian Cushing mic'd up?
His commentary is top-notch. One time I heard him trash-talking Ryan Mallett after making a play. It had something to do with drinking lemonade. Don't ask. I still haven't figured it out.
11. Also, if any "Hard Knocks" people are reading this...
It's safe to say we would all like to see more of Ben Jones swapping stories and Sean Hayes doing his wrestling impressions.
"Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Houston Texans" airs Tuesday nights 9 p.m. CT on HBO.