In normal times, the pro football teams of Los Angeles would have spent the first week of August doing what pro football teams have always done this time of year. Practices. Meetings. More practices. More meetings. Maybe a trip to a bowling alley. Rinse and repeat.
Breaking news: These ain't normal times. We live in a COVID-19 world, and COVID-19 devours routine. It cackles in the face of tradition. It stops us in our tracks, blindfolds us, then pushes us out into the great wide open. "Go ahead," it dares. "Figure it out."
NFL teams are like big families ... and they aren't so different than our own right now. We're all just trying to make sense of what's in front of us. We've all been handed a complicated new playbook and are playing catch up on a daily basis. Figure. It. Out.
That's what we see from the Rams and Chargers in the premiere of Hard Knocks, the 15th season of the landmark HBO docuseries that dropped on Tuesday night. There's very little on-field action in the 58 minutes that make up the premiere, and that's no overwrought narrative choice by NFL Films. There's very little football in the season premiere of Hard Knocks because there's very little football at football camps right now, period.
Instead, we get a peek into a world of medical testing, video conferences and lightly attended team meetings where your boss addresses you while looking like an extra from Contagion. Football feels secondary in this nascent stage of camp. You can see how this would be something of an obstacle for our head coaches, Sean McVay and Anthony Lynn.
Lynn has firsthand experience of what the world is fighting. Earlier this year, he was laying on a couch watching TV when he realized he was experiencing the same symptoms as a virus-stricken golfer who pulled out of a tournament. Shortly thereafter, Lynn found himself in quarantine, feeling like an outcast.
"You're used to fixing the problem," Lynn recalls. "Now I'm the problem."
Fortunately, Lynn escaped any serious long-term effects from his illness. He gets to live, and coach, another day.
Fellas, this year is not like any year we've had in the National Football League," Lynn tells his players in one of an infinite number of Zoom team meetings. "It's going to be chaos. And it's going to be change. And it's going to come every single day. The goals, the objectives will not change. I can't promise you're not gonna get infected. I got infected.
"Be ready for chaos. Embrace it. Because if we're going to play, the team that handled this thing the best now, is going to have the best chance of winning that trophy."
One week in, and things are going about as well as possible for our two teams. The Chargers have had zero positive tests. The Rams have also been perfect, save for one. Rookie linebacker Terrell Lewis was diagnosed with COVID-19, and now it's his time to live the life of an "outcast." No practice. No access to the facility. No connection to the outside world aside from his laptop.
Remember when a bad haircut, beefy restaurant tab, or tragic talent show demonstration was the worst thing that could befall a rookie on Hard Knocks? Like everything else, that feels like a long time ago. Familiar camp trivialities have given way to a new chaos. Embrace and adapt. There's no other choice.
EXTRA POINTS ...
- Welcome to the 15th season of Hard Knocks and the ninth year of weekly NFL.com recaps from yours truly. As always, I'll be offering up my insights on every episode from now through the finale on Sept. 8. New episodes premiere on HBO and HBO Max every Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET. I'll also be talking about the show on Wednesday editions of the Around The NFL Podcast.
- We don't get enough time with reserve defensive back Donte' Deayon to discern whether he is a beloved team jester or the super annoying guy you dread being trapped in conversation with at a party. I do understand his dissatisfaction with his locker placement, set in an entirely different room than the more established players and situated about a foot away from the entrance to a woman's bathroom. He calls it the "projects" of locker setups, and he may have a point.
- I used to think Myles Garrett had a lifetime lock on the title for Most Impressive Human Specimen in Hard Knocks history, but then Aaron Donald took his shirt off. The man is listed at 280 pounds and every bit of it has to be muscle. It's impossible.
- Speaking of shirtless dudes (where is this recap going?), I'm starting to think Sean McVay staged that whole dog trick routine in the pool so he could show off his own work in the home gym. I was hoping for an alley-oop dunk from the dog, or at least a tip-in. Instead, we just saw the dog get whacked in the face a few times with a football. What did I miss? YOUR BOD LOOKS GREAT, COACH.
- Jalen Ramsey telling reporters on Zoom he didn't want to get disrespectful before abruptly walking out the room was ... a look. The Rams' star cornerback, currently in line for a rich extension after last season's trade from the Jaguars, was unhappy with reporters who asked about his contract situation. "When I give y'all an answer, that's the answer," Ramsey said. "I don't appreciate you all trying to push me to a different answer because that's not what you wanted to hear."
- You know, Tyrod Taylor always struck me as a good dude and sturdy "bridge" quarterback, but then I saw his new look and suddenly I believe his potential to be Mahomesian.
- Taylor currently tops the Chargers' depth chart ahead of first-round pick Justin Herbert, who showed off some impressive touch and accuracy in a portion of the episode that actually featured on-field work. "I love his balls, man," says rookie running back Darius Bradwell. Responds a teammate: "You said you love his balls." You know Bradwell spent the rest of the week praying this wasn't going to be his only on-camera appearance on Hard Knocks. Sorry, bro.
- Tight end Andrew Vollert didn't bother to "say the right things" or "use sound judgment" and "keep doors open" after learning he was an early camp cut. "You gotta be kidding me," he fumes to Lynn after being summoned to the coach's office. "You gotta be f------ kidding me." Lynn talked Vollert down and later admitted to Chargers GM Tom Telesco that he "kind of liked" Vollert's emotion. That doesn't stop Lynn from poking some fun at young Andrew. "Hold up man ... you ain't Antonio Gates now."
- The final word goes to Sean McVay: "Don't be the guy that takes a s--- in the porta potties. I went in there I about threw up. Have a little bit more social awareness!" 2020 has its senior quote. 'Til next week.