We received good news Wednesday, when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers announced they will be the focus of the 12th season of "Hard Knocks," HBO's venerable collaboration with NFL Films that offers football fans a warts-and-all view of training camp life.
The five-episode run will air every Tuesday, from August 8 through September 5. Cameras will track every Bucs movement ahead of their season opener. Tampa Bay follows the Los Angeles Rams, whose own star turn produced earthbound drama aside from one deeply regrettable promise from Jeff Fisher.
- 2017 NFL DRAFT
▹ Day 1 winners and losers
▹ QB frenzy shakes up Round 1
▹ How Patriots attack the draft
▹ Tom Brady's DIII Dopplgänger?
▹ Sidelines: How Desmond King made it
▹ Draft Do-overs:
▸ 2008 | 2011 | 2014 | 2015
▹ AFC Draft Needs:
▸ West | North | South | East
▹ NFC Draft Needs:
▸ West | North | South | East
- MARSHAWN LYNCH TRADE
▹ Lynch, Raiders poised for run
▹ Raiders boast NFL's best offense?
I've documented every "Hard Knocks" season for NFL.com since 2012, when Joe Philbin was wowing America with charisma that would leave a young Elvis Presley green with envy. Barring a nuclear fallout scenario, I'll be back at it again with episode recaps starting in August.
The Bucs are promising NFC upstarts with no shortage of intriguing personalities and storylines. One could even call them youngry ... is that taken? Meanwhile, this feels like an important season for "Hard Knocks," an all-time sports series that retreated into a formulaic cul-de-sac under the weight of the dreary Rams a year ago.
Anyway, here's what I'm looking forward to this season:
The Jameis Winston Show
You know that warm feeling when you pick a total stud at the top of your fantasy draft -- think David Johnson or Julio Jones -- and the selection serves as a security blanket as the rest of your draft starts to take shape? That's what it's like for "Hard Knocks" producers when they have a camera-ready quarterback to play off. It's an ace in the hole and another example of how QB1 is the center of everything in the football universe.
Winston, now 23 and entering his third season, is more than just an ascendant talent at the game's most important position. He is fiery leader straight out of the "Any Given Sunday" playbook. Last summer, "Hard Knocks" had to make chicken salad out of Jared Goff chilling with his bro on recline mode. Now they have this ...
And this! (Bonus points for this video capturing the exact moment Mike Glennon realizes, "S---, I'm never going to play here again."
Of course, Winston has been no stranger to controversy, either -- this includes legal trouble and his recent misadventure in youth leadership. But those imperfections also factor into what makes him such a provocative subject in this format.
Gerald McCoy's something-to-prove angle
NFL players rarely ever say anything interesting during OTAs. Another way to put it is that NFL players are trope machines this time of year. And that's what made Gerald McCoy's pointed self-criticism this week so surprising.
"The great ones make the plays in the fourth quarter," McCoy said, via ESPN.com. "The great ones make those big shots. The great ones make the plays when it's necessary. If I want to be considered one of those guys when my career is over, that's what has to be done. I haven't been watching games or my film. I've been watching all of my fourth quarters. Where's my energy level in the fourth quarter? Is my technique dropping in the fourth quarter? Am I making the plays that I need to make in the fourth quarter?"
McCoy said he spoke to three unnamed individuals at this year's Pro Bowl and came out of it with the understanding he hasn't "done enough to lead this team." McCoy went on to promise changes in how he'll operate -- NFL Films would be wise to track this storyline and I'm sure they will. McCoy, entering his eighth season, has never been to the playoffs. This team could be his big ticket.
Buy Tevas stock, like, NOW
If there's one aspect of a Bucs "Hard Knocks" season that gives me pause, I'm sorry to say that it's having Mike Smith and Dirk Koetter back in our lives on premium cable. Both seem like swell guys, but they weren't exactly the most compelling figures during the Falcons' "Hard Knocks" season of 2014, when Smith was Atlanta's head coach and Koetter the offensive coordinator. From my Episode 1 recap back then:
Smith and [assistant coach Mike] Tice appear to be locked in an America's Dorkiest Dad competition, only nobody else knows about it. When Smith steps away from his desk and we get the reveal of boat shorts and Teva sandals, you can almost hear the Mike + The Mechanics record playing at a responsible volume.
For the record, I was thinking of this song when I wrote that last line ...
Anyway, one potential positive of having Koetter and Smith back is the possibility that 2014 "Hard Knocks" MVP Bryan Cox could resurface in Tampa. The passionate and occasionally terrifying assistant coach was fired by the Falcons after their Super Bowl collapse.
The Doug Martin Redemption Tour
In 2015, Doug Martin was one of the best running backs in football. The following season, the Bucs watched in horror as Martin's life and career went sideways. After a trip to rehab, league suspension and public waffling from the Bucs over his future, Martin represents one of the biggest question marks in football entering 2017.
Martin is due substantial money and is no lock to make the team. How the Bucs proceed will make for great theater.
If you're a regular reader of the End Around or listen to the Around The NFL Podcast, you're probably aware that I'm very excited about the impending camp battle between second-year man Roberto Aguayo and veteran Nick Folk.
The Bucs stunned the football world by moving up to take a kicker in the second round last April, and Aguayo made them look awful with a truly terrible rookie season. That prompted general manager Jason Licht to sign Folk to a deal that included $750,000 in guaranteed money.
Giving Folk three quarters of a million bucks tells us this isn't going to be some FARCE of a kicking battle. This is a real fight-to-the-death, two-men-enter, one-man-survives type of deal. I'd just build an octagon around the entire special teams meeting room. Lean into this sucker.
Seriously though, there are legitimate stakes here as the Bucs wrestle with the decision to possibly acknowledge they made one of the worst draft mistakes in the last 30 years. How will Aguayo react to this sort of pressure? Will the Bucs take away Licht's parking spot if Aguayo gets cut? This is going to be fascinating television.
The whole season has that kind of potential.Follow Dan Hanzus on Twitter @danhanzus and check out his stuff on the End Around.