Criticize Jeff Fisher if you so choose, but you can't say the man isn't self-aware.
We're less than 30 minutes into the season premiere of Hard Knocks and the Rams head coach has already sent a player out the door. Wide receiver Deon Long broke a clearly established team rule by hosting a woman in his dorm room at training camp. If you're Todd Gurley, this would warrant a stern reprimand. If you're an undrafted free agent like Long, well, you're finished.
Here's the thing: Jeff Fisher knows he's acquired an unsavory reputation. His success with the Titans is deep in the rearview, and he's now better known as the teflon head coach who never gets to nine wins but somehow acquired nine lives.
To Fisher, Long's foolish mistake is emblematic of the type of behavior one would expect from a franchise characterized as a forever also-ran. So, knowing cameras are trained on him, Fisher delivers a speech that reads like an inciting incident that closes the first act of a movie at your local multiplex.
"I'm not f------ going 7-9 or 8-8 or 9-7, OK?" Fisher says. "Or 10-6 for that matter. This team's too talented. I'm not going to settle for that. I know what I'm doing."
Fisher seems to be delivering a message to his team while selling himself to us at the same time.
"We had some 7-9 bulls--- this morning," he continued. "Now Deon's gone -- that is 7-9 bulls---. And we don't need it. You guys take ownership in this thing, OK? You take ownership and you take your ownership and you trust that I know what I'm doing and we're going to be just fine."
Fisher is interesting to watch in his habitat. He carries himself like a well-liked gym teacher who has tenure, can play the political game as well as anybody, and knows the only way he can get fired is if he punches out the vice principal. (In this case, that would be Rams general manager Les Snead.)
Fisher has been untouchable for years, but you get the feeling the stakes got higher with the team's highly publicized relocation to Southern California. Fisher needs his team to show improvement and his chances may hinge at the quarterback position.
Early reports don't point to Goff hitting the ground running. The season premiere shows us just how green the No. 1 pick really is. Take these comments from Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams (yes, that Gregg Williams), who seems to have some early reservations about the rookie.
"He goes in high school and he goes to college and he never called an offensive play in the huddle," Williams says to coaches during one practice. "Hasn't huddled. And offenses in the National Football League, you got have a f------ catalogue to call the plays. It's just 18-, 19-word sentences."
Goff lacks a catalogue or anything resembling a smooth cadence. Seconds after Williams' rant, Goff huddles with the offense and calls out a play with the confidence and proficiency of a 9-year-old reading a passage from Infinite Jest. When Goff attempts to break the huddle, a confused offensive lineman neatly sums up the feeling of teammates and viewers alike: "What the f---?"
The kid has a lot to learn. Though we see him make some strides in a scrimmage that ends the episode, Rap Sheet's report about Case Keenum having a "real chance" to start Week 1 now makes a lot more sense.
Keenum behind center in Week 1 would not be good news for Fisher, who knows that ugly reputation will eventually sink him if things don't change. The pressure is on, and cameras will be everywhere as the Rams try -- once more -- to lay the foundation of a winner.
"Some 7-9 bull----" simply won't cut it.
» Welcome to the 11th season of Hard Knocks and the fifth year of weekly recaps from yours truly. Like sands through an hourglass, my friends. I'll be offering up my insights of every episode from now through the finale on Sept. 6. Helpful note to the stragglers out there: HBO runs encore presentations every Wednesday at midnight.
» This is not piling on, but Goff really seems like a little boy in the premiere. Goff and Tom Brady are like different species. When an assistant tells Fisher that Goff bought 60 fans for offensive players and coaches for use in the A/C-deprived UC Irvine dorms, the coach is less than thrilled with the short-sighted goodwill gesture.
"So the offense has fans and the defense doesn't," Fisher intones. "That's a great way to start off."
And if you've been wondering where Mike Singletary has been, he's a defensive assistant on the Rams ... and he is wildly impressed by Donald. "Coach," Singletary says with his typical passion. "I don't think I've ever seen a kid like 99. I've never seen a kid like him." High praise, considering the source.
» Kendrick Lamar and ScHoolboy Q, both South Central products, make an appearance at camp. (This kind of stuff wasn't happening in St. Louis.) Lamar is such a talented artist and performer, I almost hoped he'd be a total spazoid on the field. (These are my own insecurities talking, back off.) But Lamar and Q both show some athletic ability. To be honest, The Butterfly Pimp kind of slings it like Tony Romo.
» Speaking of St. Louis, I'd be remiss not to mention how much this must suck for Rams fans from that region. Are you guys even watching Hard Knocks? I don't imagine I'd be able to stomach a documentary series about the fresh start and limitless future of the Las Vegas Jets. St. Louis gets maybe a minute of air time in the premiere, and I suspect that'll be it for the rest of the season. The whole thing doesn't settle too well.
» We get to see Nick Foles' release, done in an absurdly low-key manner over a 90-second conversation with Fisher, who goes Full Lumbergh on the call. "What's up, man? [Foles answer] How was the summer? [Foles answer] You guys stay here in Southern California or do some traveling? [Foles answer] Oh good, oh good, good OK. Well I'm touching base, man. We're going to go ahead and release you today. OK?"
» Blame the 8-year-old in me, but the wild intimacy of the quarterback-center exchange will never not be funny. Actual conversation:
Way better than any jokes in Sausage Party.
» Center Eric Kush has a Katie Ledecky-like lead over the pack in the race for Hard Knocks MVP. He is, simply put, a high-level Bro. I guarantee you he ruled his high school. The man brought like 20 tanktops to camp and speaks of each of them like they're his children. "This is for those fat-armed American Friday days," he explains of a tank with colors that don't run. "You just throw the tank on and rip it up for America."
» Let's bring back the Hard Knocks playlist! The first song we hear -- aside from the iconic David Robidoux theme -- is Sia's Mamas & Papas cover from the San Andreas soundtrack. That was the movie about the complete destruction of Los Angeles. If this Rams season ends up in a similar state, The Rock won't be able to fly in on his stupid helicopter to save them.