The latest episode of Hard Knocks, one of the show's better offerings in recent memory, reaches a frenetic climax in its final moments.
After months of uncertainty and weeks of COVID-19 testing, tedious Zoom meetings and clinical walk-throughs, players for the Rams and Chargers have been cleared, at long last, to put on their helmets and get to the business of doing what they love. It's taken longer than ever before, but it's time to play football again.
And sure, Hard Knocks could make a Tuesday night book club reading of Angela's Ashes feel like an intergalactic battle to save mankind, but damn if it doesn't feel like the enthusiasm -- the relief -- of players and coaches is jumping off the screen as they go full speed through a contact practice. We even see Sean McVay in full sprint when the head coach suddenly morphed into an overmatched slot corner, in a joyous moment that feels almost ... well ... normal.
"Man," the coach shouts to no one in particular. "It's good to be out here with you guys!"
It's a classic Hard Knocks montage, one of the finest, perfectly soundtracked by the Easy McCoy banger "Energy".
To my very last breath / 'Til there ain't nothing left / I'm gonna push it to the max / I'm gonna do it 'til the death / My energy, I'm on a different level like my energy
The times are still strange. NFL teams, like the rest of us, continue to operate in a state of limbo as an invisible danger swirls all around. NFL training camps balance football preparation with intense safety measures. We learn about distancing bracelets and helmet face guards and see how a young coach's false positive test can put an entire organization on edge.
And then there's veteran Rams left tackle Andrew Whitworth, who shares a sobering tale of how coronavirus ripped through his home, infecting five adults and four children, including himself. The source? A nanny who made the fateful decision to have lunch with a friend.
The Whitworth family recovered, and NFL camps across the country have had excellent success keeping COVID-19 at the door so far, but his story is a reminder of the insidious nature of an unseen enemy.
Challenges are everywhere -- on the field and off. Keep up the energy.
EXTRA POINTS ...
-- Man, we're all struggling to keep off the pounds in quarantine, so I really felt for Chargers undrafted rookie running back Darius Bradwell, who received an earful for reporting to camp with love handles. "What have you been doing?" asks head coach Anthony Lynn. "Nothing?" Strength and conditioning coach John Lott was more direct: "Your stinkin' head coach is an ex-running back, so he's going to look at you like a German Shepherd with his ears up at an airport. This pecker's looking at you, he sees possibilities in you. You gotta get your stinkin' mind right. Remember what I told you, this ain't no pie-eating contest." Ouch.
-- There was a legit belly laugh in the living room of Hanzus Manor when wide receiver Mike Williams learned he could be subject to a $50,000 fine for not wearing his tracking bracelet during practice. That man took off like a cartoon:
I'm still laughing.
-- Last week, we wondered if McVay's baffling poolside dog trick routine was just a thinly veiled excuse to show off the work he's been putting in at the gym. In Episode 2, McVay offers an apology: "You get a chance to reflect on it -- I apologize for my poor judgment, taking my shirt off on Hard Knocks." Related: Anybody else starting to worry that Sean McVay is turning into Jon Gruden? No wonder ESPN kicked the tires.
-- Derwin James is a fantastic athlete and one of the most skilled safeties to come into the league in the past 20 years. His ability is so gargantuan and his potential so vast that I feel comfortable saying we could be looking at a future Hall of Famer. I can also comfortably say I would absolutely trash Derwin James in a game of cornhole. Funny how life builds in these neat little personal victories.
-- That young Chargers coach spooked by the false positive test? None other than Seth Ryan, son of former Jets coach and Hard Knocks living legend Rex Ryan. Jets fans undoubtedly remember beat reporter notebooks that chronicled Mark Sanchez trips to Seth's high school playoff games. Time flies ... and it's nice to know there's still Ryan lineage in the league. Now let's get Rex and Uncle Rob back in an NFL building for some GD snacks.
-- Jared Goff's splendid pitching green -- sorry, his "Goff Course" -- is a twenty-and-thirty-something bros paradise. Me and my high school buddies could post up there for three days with the right refreshments on hand. Goff, for the record, looks so much more comfortable in his skin when compared to his first Hard Knocks appearance as a rookie No. 1 overall pick in 2016. Makes sense.
-- I don't understand the strategies of the realtors to the rich and famous in greater Los Angeles. You roll out the red carpet for Jalen Ramsey, decorate the house with things he loves, you even meticulously arrange the Oreos in the kitchen ... but you don't show him a house with a pool? Clean it up, guys.
-- Lastly, my latest Hard Knocks Spotify playlist is really starting to pop off. It has the aforementioned banger, "Energy", plus a classic from The Police that beautifully scored the the tracking bracelet montage. I love this show. Until next week.