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Eight things to watch on this season's 'Hard Knocks'

Hard Knocks is almost here. The 10th season of the groundbreaking documentary series will kick off Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET with the first of five episodes on HBO. There are no shortage of compelling storylines to follow with this year's subject, the Houston Texans. Here's what we'll be watching for.

1. Up close with J.J.: We're witnessing something special with J.J. Watt, who had a very strong case last season to be the league's MVP in addition to his no-doubter DPOY honors. Watt is in that next level of professional athletes -- think Tyson in his prime, or Jordan, LeBron, Tiger -- where he can sometimes look like a man playing against boys (see Watt's *Hard Knocks* cameo last year in a 1-on-1 practice session against poor Jake Matthews). Point being, these types of athletes don't come around often and Knocks offers an ideal platform.

2. Foster's big setback: We were looking forward to seeing a lot of Foster, the NFL's closest thingto Confucius. Unfortunately, the veteran running back suffered a serious groin injury last week that could knock him out of action for months. Foster will undoubtedly be a major plotline of Tuesday's premiere, but don't be surprised if he becomes scarce after that. Remember how A.J. Green disappeared from cameras after injuring his knee early in the Bengals' 2013 Hard Knocks season?

3. QB camp battle: It's been awhile since Hard Knocks has been able to sink its teeth into a legit quarterback competition. Ryan Tannehill won a rigged Dolphins competition back in 2012 if you want to count that, but the last true battle came way back in 2007, when Damon Huard and Brodie Croyle dueled in Kansas City (yes, we got chills, too). Ryan Mallett vs. Brian Hoyer brings the goods this season -- even if the latter seems to be the favorite as training camp begins. I'm also curious to learn more about Hoyer, whose hard-working underdog rep earned him the nickname "Cleveland Springsteen" during his Browns tenure. Full disclosure: I'm the only person who called him that.

4. Clowney's return:Jadeveon Clowney was hyped as the next L.T. before two knee surgeries turned his career upside-down. Hard Knocks should give us more access to Clowney during his ongoing recovery from that serious microfracture procedure. Access is good! We don't get much of that anymore!

5. The Bill O'Brien Show: It's only natural that Hard Knocks acts as something of a star vehicle for the head coach. Last season, Mike Smith underwhelmed as a Tevas-wearing low-talker whose staid nature stood in stark contrast to the build-a-bully makeover the coaching staff tried to sell the Falcons. Let's hope O'Brien has a more dynamic on-camera presence. At the very least, we'll get plenty of time with that chin. That chin was born for the spotlight.

6. BOB's supporting cast: Every Hard Knocks season features breakout performances from an assistant coach or two. Last year, cigar-chomping Falcons linebackers coach Bryan Cox was so dominant that he earned coveted Hard Knocks MVP honors. The year before it was then-Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, whose tough-guy-with-a-heart-of-gold act surely hit a sweet note with the Vikings, who hired him as their head coach a few months later. Possible breakout stars for the Texans staff (aka Patriots South): linebackers coach Mike Vrabel, defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel.

7. Forgot About 'Dre: It will be a different training camp in Houston without franchise great Andre Johnson, who's now catching passes from Andrew Luck in Indy. Is this the year DeAndre Hopkins enters the top 10 conversation at wide receiver? Who else steps up? The Texans will need more from their passing game with Foster out of the picture.

8. Big Vince!

The latest Around The NFL Podcast debates whose stock is up and whose stock is down after the first week of training camp.

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