Hard Knocks recap No. 1: Winston ready for his close-up

Print

Watch the full episode above, courtesy of HBO, and be sure to watch each new episode Tuesdays at 10 p.m. PT.

Will Smith had Bad Boys. Mark Wahlberg had Boogie Nights. Chris Pratt had Guardians of the Galaxy.

For Jameis Winston, Hard Knocks can become his coveted star-making vehicle. It certainly seems like producers of the acclaimed HBO series -- which kicked off its 12th season on Tuesday night -- believe they have something special in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' third-year quarterback.

Bucs coach Dirk Koetter would undoubtedly agree.

"Now we need you to be a great quarterback," Koetter tells Winston during a frank conversation in his office. "You play a different style of quarterback than Tom Brady. You play a closer style to Aaron Rodgers. Both great quarterbacks, both guys who will be in the Hall of Fame. Now's the time, even though they've got years on you, you gotta play like that."

Telling your 23-year-old passer he must raise his game to the level of two of the greatest players in NFL history is quite the challenge. But everything we see in Tuesday's premiere tells us that Winston has the goods to answer the call.

We see that during the trip to his hometown of Bessemer, Ala., where Winston gives Hard Knocks cameras a tour of a ramshackle residence that Winston likened more to "a community center, a daycare" than a typical childhood home. Winston said 20 people lived in the house during his youth, pointing out a narrow twin bed that slept three children at a time -- himself included.

Fortunately, it's not all hard knocks on Hard Knocks. During an outside tour of the residence, Winston points to a new barbecue smoker that sits next to the old smoker on the porch. "We comin' up now," he says with a smile. Winston didn't come from much, but his past is a source of pride rather than a burden.

Winston is the unquestioned star of the premiere. As the episode moves along, it is exceedingly clear that he is the center of the Bucs' universe. Star defensive tackle Gerald McCoy tells reporters his eyes teared up when he accidentally hit Winston during a pass rush in practice. "Three is the franchise," McCoy said, referring to Winston's uniform number. "Forget 93, forget 13, 11 and 1 ... 91, 98, 54, 58. 3, 3 is the one. If 3 ain't out there, eh."

But the best Winston snapshot comes in the episode's final minutes, a scene preceded by a practice in which the quarterback struggles mightily. Series narrator Liev Schreiber tells us that Winston wakes each morning before dawn to the soundtrack of a motivational speaker named Eric Thomas. (Sample dialogue: Stop just waking up like an accident! What do you want? And then once you find out what you want spend the rest of your natural life waking up and going after it!) Winston's the first player in the hotel lobby ... the only man in the locker room ... a solo presence in the weight room.

It's the type of drive and commitment to craft that made players like Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers legends. Winston is following the path -- and it has the potential to take the Buccaneers to greatness.

Quick hits:

�� Welcome to the 12th season of Hard Knocks and the sixth year of weekly recaps from yours truly. We don't get older, we get better my friends. I'll be offering up my insights of every episode from now through the finale on Sept. 5. New episodes premiere on HBO every Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET and PT.

�� Another sign the Bucs have something special in Winston? The man surrenders daily room service at the team hotel in exchange for bonus hotel reward points. This had me lady all sorts of fired up:

�� It wasn't quite Jeff Fisher swearing off "7-9 bull----", but we kind of dug Koetter's NASA analogy to begin the premiere. "Teams are like rockets," he explains to his players. "Most of the work has to happen beforehand. Once the rocket launches, it's incredibly difficult to change its course mid-flight. That's what we're doing right now. We're launching the 2017 Tampa Bay Buccaneers." [ANNNNNND CUE OPENING THEME SONG AND CREDITS. BAM.]

�� You can always count on wholesome rookie hazing to deliver the goods on Hard Knocks. This year we got a singing competition. Most of the guys were pretty terrible, which was fine since it gave viewers multiple opportunities to see Doug Martin's tremendous impression of The Executioner from Amateur Night at the Apollo.

�� You heard it here first: Jon Gruden will coach in the NFL again one day. The former Bucs coach turned Monday Night Football commentator looked and sounded like a kid in a candy shop during a visit to his old stomping grounds. After Gruden unloads some motivational mumbo-jumbo in the quarterbacks room and departs, Koetter asks the room rhetorically: "He doesn't miss ball, does he?"

�� Last year, Kendrick Lamar visited Rams camp during the Hard Knocks premiere. This year, it's another South Central hip hop icon, Snoop Dogg, who makes a cameo during a Facetime chat with rookie running back Jeremy McNichols. The connection? McNichols was once a star in Snoop's youth football league in Los Angeles. "He who knows the most, plays the most," Uncle Snoop imparts to his one-time gridiron student. Sage advice.

�� Our favorite of the Obligatory Underdog Rookies this season? That would be third-string mike linebacker Riley Bullough. A guy who looks like a cross between Triple H and Joe Dirt and yells "F--- you!" at blocking dummies. He also garnered this reaction from Winston during the singing competition:

�� You know we have to bring back the Hard Knocks playlist. Every song you hear this season will be curated in the Spotify playlist below. (Get Season 10 and Season 11 if it's your thing.) As always, we'll begin things with David Robidoux's stellar theme song. If I could have one song on repeat soundtracking my life, it is the Hard Knocks song. Honestly, I feel sorry for all other songs.

Dan Hanzus runs the End Around page on NFL.com and would perform "Just A Friend" by Biz Markie in a hypothetical rookie singing competition. Follow him on Twitter at @danhanzus.

Print

Fan Discussion