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New 'Hard Knocks' installment humanizes Buccaneers players

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The 30-second chat between Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson was mined from up to 350 hours of footage that is shot per week during the filming of Hard Knocks.

While on the practice field, the Tampa Bay receivers were talking about of all things, emojis. The conversation was sparked by Jackson wearing a sleeve with those cute little figures on it.

"I used to hate emojis," Evans said. "Now I use them always."

Ken Rodgers, the NFL Films coordinating producer for Hard Knocks, calls that exchange and others like it "a stolen moment." He said they get at the core of what the all-access series is trying to accomplish.

"The stolen moment is a slice of life," Rodgers said. "It is amazingly routine. It could be two people talking at your bank down the street. Instead, it is two receivers who get paid millions of dollars talking about something as mundane as emojis. That humanizes these players. It shows they are the same as the rest of us."

There will be plenty of "stolen moments," along with much more significant storylines, when Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers debuts on HBO Tuesday, Aug. 8 at 10 p.m. ET. Rodgers is excited about the possibilities for the upcoming series.

Tampa Bay is on the rise, coming off a 9-7 season in 2016. They have a budding star quarterback in Jameis Winston and dynamic offensive players, including Evans. Five-time Pro Bowl tackle Gerald McCoy heads an improving defense.

"Football fans are knowledgeable that something good is taking place in Tampa, but they might not know all the details," Rodgers said. "That's what delivers the best Hard Knocks. There's a lot of juice, more energy in camp because everyone wants to take the next step. You see this collection of talent, and the possibility of what they could be in the coming year."

As usual, the focus will be on the quarterback. Winston, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft, has high expectations going into his third season. Rodgers said viewers will get to know who he is. Hard Knocks filmed a visit to Winston's childhood home in Alabama.

"He's the first person everyone brings up when you talk about the Buccaneers," Rodgers said. "People will see a personality that lights up the screen. He comes off as a unique individual."

The spotlight also will be on head coach Dirk Koetter. The second-year coach is trying to manage the expectations, according to Rodgers.

"There's a feeling from Koetter of ignoring the all the noise," Rodgers said. "People will see how they have their own internal expectations."

The high-profile names always get the attention, but the other end of the NFL spectrum that provides some of the most memorable moments of Hard Knocks. Many of the ongoing storylines will center on the players who will be fighting to earn the last roster spots on Tampa Bay. For some, it could be their final shot to play in the NFL. It always is compelling to see the elation of an ultimate dream fulfilled, or the heartbreak of a player sent packing.

Again, Rodgers said, those scenes underscore the mission of Hard Knocks.

"The players [struggling to make the team] are the basis for the show," Rodgers said. "It might seem glorious to be able to run out of the tunnel before a game, but at the end of the day, it's all about them trying to take care of their families. What Hard Knocks does is humanize those players. People will realize that they're not that different from us."

Viewers won't have to wait until Tuesday nights to see the latest from Hard Knocks this season. The series is running short behind-the-scenes clips on Twitter at #HardKnocksNow.

Extra points: NFL Network will air 16 live preseason games this year. This week's schedule features Houston at Carolina Wednesday and Denver at Chicago Thursday. All 64 preseason games will air on NFL Network either live or via tape delay. ... FOX Sports didn't have a comment Monday on its broadcast plans following Jay Cutler's decision to play for Miami this year. He had been scheduled to be on FOX's No. 2 team with Kevin Burkhardt and Charles Davis. Does Fox go with a two-man set-up or add a third person to the team? ... Like father, like son. Cris Collinsworth's son, Jac, is joining ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown as a feature reporter. ... A new season of A Football Life returns to NFL Network on Sept. 15. The series includes films on Dan Marino, Emmitt Smith, John Madden and Jerry Jones. ... Tony Romo, who takes over as CBS' No. 1 analyst this year, took his preparation to another level last week. He did a dress rehearsal with Jim Nantz in calling the Hall of Fame game. Romo came from Chicago where he shot 80-82 to miss the cut in the Western Amateur.

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