Late last week, Brown became the biggest story in football thanks to parallel dramas -- both "Greatest Hits" level training camp storylines, really -- that rocked the Raiders. First, Brown's frostbitten feet (this was "Hey Ya!"), followed by the wideout's helmet battle royale with the NFL (clearly "Billie Jean").
When we meet Brown on Tuesday night, he's alone on a practice field. He asks the "Hard Knocks" crew if they want to see the bottom of his feet. Brown's battered dogs remain burnt and blistered after a cold therapy session in Paris gone sideways. (The Parisian setting adds a touch of glamour and class to the proceedings, doesn't it?) Brown's feet don't look much better than the first time we saw them a week earlier.
"My feet is pretty much getting circumcised, right? Right? For real," Brown opines after removing his athletic socks. "It's kind of like a pull back right now. I'm f------ circumcised on my feet. Hopefully my feet are born again, and I figure to run faster. Feel sorry for me later."
It's hard to know who to feel sorry for at Raiders camp. Brown's problems are of his own making, and besides, he's barely been at camp anyway. We empathize with Raiders fans who already spent $70 on a No. 84 jersey. The stunned circumcision industry has our support, of course. Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock have our pity, but they knew Brown would bring the circus to town.
That said, who could have predicted this?
Ideally, Tuesday's episode would have provided us some behind-the-scenes insight into how the powers that be in Oakland really feel about the snowballing Brown drama. But "Hard Knocks" couldn't give that to us because Gruden and Co. wouldn't give it up.
The closest we get might have come during a 1-on-1 practice field interaction between Gruden and Rod Martin, the Raiders' head athletic trainer. Martin and Gruden discuss the serious nature of Brown's foot injuries.
"Those are those things, if it's not treated right, you read about these mountain climbers, it's the same thing, frostbite," Martin says. "You can't warm 'em up, you just have to naturally let it come, or the skin will die. I mean ..."
Martin trails off, perhaps because he knows the head coach has already tuned him out. Gruden stares blankly ahead for five full seconds before turning and walking off. The viewer is left to wonder what's going through the coach's mind at that moment. Maybe he's thinking about the guard who just missed a blocking assignment. Maybe he's trying to remember where he left his cell phone charger.
Perhaps it's a credit to his years in broadcasting that Gruden has done absolutely nothing to accelerate this five-alarm fire. After the Raiders' preseason opener, he publicly supported his maddening star. Over the last several days and throughout Tuesday's episode, Gruden makes references to Brown's pending return. Brown's return to camp on Tuesday is a possible sign that the flames are under control.
But regardless of Gruden's skills in the realm of crisis control, Brown and his constant melodrama hang over this team. Across the first two episodes of "Hard Knocks," we've watched as Gruden has hammered at the organizational goal to return the Raiders to where they belong. Teamwork. Camaraderie. Dedication. A commitment to excellence. Knock on the table if you agree.
But is Antonio Brown really a fit in this vast culture makeover? And does one player have the power to undermine it completely? We might find out.
"Has anyone seen my friend AB?" Gruden says, to no one in particular, during a blink-and-you'll-miss-it peek at a private coach's meeting. "He's good, man. I wish he was here."
These are the things Gruden didn't have to worry about when he was sitting next to Mike Tirico. Welcome to Year 2 of a 10-year job.
-- Brown took us back to the moment of cryo-related infamy: "I got out, and I felt my foot burning. I was like, 'Man, I feel a hot sensation.' The next, like, 24 hours it swelled up. It got really big. I couldn't really walk or put pressure. The doctor came over, drained a little out. Scalpel the next day. Freaking scissors the next day. Just kind of let it leak all out. As everything leaked all out, I was able to put a little pressure. Thankfully, my trainer was working me out in the midst of my freaking. I can't be on my feet. Now, it's just like new skin, I'm just trying to get my feet used to feeling that, but I feel like I've just got a ... big whoopee cushion. You know?"
No, not entirely!
-- Last week, "Hard Knocks" pulled a fast one by introducing us to, then having us say our quick goodbyes, to Ronald Ollie as the Obligatory Undrafted Free Agent Longshot. This week we're back in more traditional territory, as we got to know wide receiver Keelan Doss, a local kid from Alameda trying to make the final 53. Gruden seems interested in Doss as a prospect, though strangely, the coach seems equally intrigued by his rookie's dating situation. Stay tuned.
-- I don't know about Derek Carr's long-term security with the Raiders. But in the here and now? There is no safer QB1. Mike Glennon v. Nathan Peterman is a death match unlikely to produce a definitive winner. Gruden is extremely hands-on in his coaching of the quarterbacks, preferring tough love over gentle encouragement. At one point, he implores Glennon to show a little charisma. "Have a little personality today, Glen-NON!" Later, he goes off on Peterman, whose internal clock seems to be busted.
"Get it going! We're running outta time! My life is running out of [pauses to think of the proper hammerdrop] ... lifespan. So casual. Like a house mouse!"
-- Speaking of Carr, for the second straight week I was taken aback by how nice of a man he seems to be. He is obscenely nice. Suspiciously nice. When a teammate asks him the most nervous he's been on the football field, Carr responds, "Asking my wife to marry me." I don't like my own wife watching this show (which she does) because Derek Carr makes me look like Mussolini. Derek Carr is like the protagonist in a movie directed by Kirk Cameron.
-- Rookie musical performances have long been a staple of training camps and a source of dependable humor on "Hard Knocks." And I'll say this as someone who has watched all 14 seasons of the show: Hunter Renfrow's rendition of the Bill Withers classic "Lean On Me" was the single worst performance in the show's history. The boy has no ear for melody. It was like the audio was being played in reverse. Good thing he can catch footballs.
-- Anybody else weirded out when NFL Network draft analyst-turned-general manager Mike Mayock dropped a casual F-bomb while Parliament Funkadelic-shaming rookie defensive end Maxx Crosby? It was like hearing your priest swear. And while we're here, you don't have to have a deep knowledge of George Clinton or Bootsy Collins to be a true hip-hop fan. That's some straight Uncle Hokum right there.
-- For all you young people out there reading this article while working at a terrible job that you hate, remember that Jon Gruden once regularly referred to a babyfaced Sean McVay as "piss boy." Everybody has to start somewhere.
-- Don't trust everything you see on reality television, but Richie Incognito has been an absolute peach through two weeks. On Tuesday, we see the veteran guard steer far clear of a fight between Raiders and Rams players during a joint practice. "It's not worth it," Incognito explains to a teammate. "Count to 10. Let me tell you what I learned about in counseling. Just count to 10."
It would be great to get more on Incognito's journey in these final three weeks.