This hasn't gotten any easier for Bill O'Brien.
O'Brien is now in his second year as Texans head coach, but the act of telling players they're not good enough to be on his team has yet to lose its edge. O'Brien spent his whole life trying to get this job, but this is the one part of it that, well, sucks.
"It is hard man, cutting those guys," O'Brien tells general manager Rick Smith in the penultimate episode of Hard Knocks' 10th season. "I know you've done it for years. I think it's hard. Because you care about them. And they've all busted their ass for you. We work these guys hard as s---. They're all good guys, too. They're really good guys."
Credit Hard Knocks for giving a face to the guys who don't typically get mentioned until their personal effects have already been tossed in a garbage bag and slung over their shoulder. Guys like Travis Labhart, a practice squad wide receiver who looks smaller than most guys in your rec flag football league. After Labhart sees just one series of action in Houston's third preseason game, he knows he's a goner.
When Labhart steps into O'Brien's office, it becomes official. Neither men talk about the next step in Labhart's career as a professional football player. Instead, Labhart talks about the possibility of getting into coaching, drawing encouragement from O'Brien and the promise of a glowing recommendation.
Cut to Labhart at home with his girlfriend, sitting on a dock and looking across a quiet lake. At 24 years old, his life is a total blank slate.
Ryan Mallett has the job security that Labhart covets, but he can relate to the "better days" part. He overslept and missed a morning practice, an honest but nearly unforgivable mistake for a quarterback. When O'Brien is told the team has been unable to get in touch with Mallett, the coach reacts like a frustrated parent of an overgrown man-child living rent-free at the house.
"I wouldn't even try to call him," O'Brien barks at a staffer, disgust dripping off each syllable. "I would just let it go. He's 27 years old, so I wouldn't even try to call him anymore."
Yes, this is a very bad look for Mallett and an on-the-nose example of the lack of trust that led Hoyer to get the starting job. Mallett's one-on-one with Smith is appropriately uncomfortable.
"I feel sh---y, real sh---y. I let my teammates down, I let you guys down," said Mallett. "I can't even explain when I woke up, I was like, 'You gotta be kidding me.'"
Smith doesn't love what he hears from Mallett, telling the quarterback he has to take ownership of his failure. (Mallett blamed his delinquency on a phone that "shut off".) Mallett may yet still be a big part of this Texans' season -- Brian Hoyer isn't very good, after all -- but Hard Knocks has not shown his most flattering angles.
»Yep, there's Big Vince Wilfork, who's threatening to run away with Hard Knocks MVP honors. I don't know how much Wilfork has in the tank, but it's easy to see why everybody loves the guy. Best comment, via cornerback Kareem Jackson: "You had to get that special made. I haven't seen the shorts like that in a while ... except for on babies."
» Do J.J. Watt's teammates like him? My season-long investigation continues. On Tuesday, Watt explains his training and sleep regiment to wide receiver Uzoma "E.Z." Nwachukwu. (Cliff's Notes: His goal is 10 hours of nightly slumber, just like Olympians.) He ends the conversation with, "You can do it if you're willing to do the work," which could have sounded encouraging but mostly comes off as condescending. Watt then fails a three-step handshake with E.Z. and gets left hanging on a fist bump. Troubling developments.
» Even if you share my opinion that Odell Beckham Jr. is a bit overexposed right now, you had to be impressed that he figured out a way to get a Hard Knocks segment while in a training camp 1,500 miles away. It comes during a wholly organic Madden showdown between ODB (the venerable gaming franchise's cover boy) and Hard Knocks favorite Charles James II. Beckham's hair in HD is a sight to behold.
» Safe to say the Texans aren't going to win any NFL Spelling Bees (Note: This would be awesome offseason programming, NFL Network suits). No one on the team seems to know how to spell "spaghetti." Wilfork might not know how to spell "knife."
» We love that James (a cornerback by trade) kept the game ball from his 73-yard touchdown run in Houston's third preseason game, not caring a bit that the score was called back by a penalty. The funniest moment of the episode -- besides Wilfork in baby overalls -- comes via the slow motion shot of James flashing the game ball to O'Brien, who responds by giving his player the finger and signaling a holding penalty.
» "He's a stand-up classy coach. I want to be, like, his best friend." -- My wife on Bill O'Brien during the cuts segment. (She's right, BOB seems like a great dude.)
» A reminder: Charge your phone tonight.
» "Let's go win it, bro. I mean, we're already winning, but let's win it more." -- Tom Savage, who has a career in motivational speaking after his playing days are done.
» Wilfork and Watt daydreaming about food has been an entertaining running thread throughout the season. This week they plan -- and later execute -- a trip to a Houston barbecue joint. Sample dialogue: