It’s actually happening. On Monday, the NFL and HBO announced that the Detroit Lions will be the feature team on the 2022 installment of the sports-based reality series “Hard Knocks”, and we couldn’t be more excited.
If you’re not familiar with the series, it’s a weekly one-hour-long television show—beginning August 9 at 10 p.m. ET—that will focus on the organization, coaches, players, and city of Detroit. This behind-the-scenes look will give Lions’ fans access to the teams on a level that has never been available before. The series will last five weeks and will follow unique storylines, human interest situations, and a deeper look at the human side of the sport.
Here are the things we are most looking forward to watching.
A truly unfiltered Dan Campbell
A non-stop mic’d up Dan Campbell? Yes, please.
From biting knee caps in his opening presser to his coffee order during training camp, Campbell has been full of easy quips for the national media to salivate over. But this is an opportunity for a larger audience to get to know the man Detroit fans have embraced over the last year.
Campbell talks from his heart, and he is unashamed of the person he is. He speaks with honesty, frankness, and is willing to take the time to respectfully talk to those around him. His intensity is infectious and you can see his energy spill over to others, as we saw last training camp.
We have seen a lot of examples of Campbell’s personality show through this past season. He gave a passionate speech to fans during training camp, followed that up with another fiery speech to the crowd at Ford Field ahead of their scrimmage, was openly remorseful after the team released Don Muhlbach (who was later hired as a coach), teared up in a post-game press conference after back-to-back walk of field goal losses left the team 0-5, and of course, the postgame victory celebrations over the Vikings (Bear hugging owner Shelia Ford Hamp), Cardinals (“Welcome to Detroit”), and Packers (“That’s where champions are born and made”) were just awesome.
Campbell’s personality will surely make him the centerpiece of this year’s “Hard Knocks”, and I will be front and center soaking it in.
Big coaching personalities don’t stop with Campbell
While Campbell will get a lot of attention, HBO will have several other big personalities among the coaching staff that they can carve into storylines as well.
Assistant head coach/running backs coach Duce Staley has a fun habit of talking trash with the defense. He’s is loud, boisterous, and highly entertaining. It’s all in good fun, of course, but Duce loves competition and every rep is a battle.
Linebacker coach Kelvin Sheppard, who isn’t shy either, better be ready because last year’s linebacker coach Mark DeLeone took the brunt of Duce’s voice.
Wide receiver coach Antwaan Randle El is a ball of energy and with a few new additions to the room, the pass catchers should get some attention.
Defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn stalks the field and raises the intensity at every position group he visits. A head coach in waiting, when he speaks it’s always enlightening.
I’m excited for the players to shine, too
Look, if Jamaal Williams is not part of HBO’s program in the first 10 minutes, they’re wasting a golden opportunity. An absolute treasure, Williams is always must-see tv.
Another big personality on offense belongs to one of the biggest players, Penei Sewell. With his superstar potential, family of football players, and new charity, he’s a ready-made storyline for the show.
Speaking of superstars with football families, Amon-Ra St. Brown is another easy win for HBO. Unmatched work ethic and confidence, backed up by on-the-field production, basically writes itself.
Gone are the days of the buttoned-up short-haired kid from Iowa named T.J. Hockenson, and in his place is a tight end who looks like he could be a wrestler. With a laid-back personality, but the drive to be special, Hockenson should get plenty of on-air time.
Another combination of an excellent player with elite character is Frank Ragnow. If his Grizzly Man Adventures angle doesn’t get him screen time, then his return from season-ending surgery is a great comeback story.
Another player returning from injury that deserves some love is Jeff Okudah. Highly intelligent and very self-reflective, the “can Okudah return to form?” storyline is a multi-episode story arc to follow.
The same could be said for Romeo Okwara, but my instincts are HBO will probably want to focus on his Nigerian roots and the meaningful culture he brings to the organization. In addition to Romeo and his brother Julian, the Lions have several other players with Nigerian ties, including Okudah, Amani Oruwariye, Ifeatu Melifonwu, Levi Onwuzurike, and Jashon Cornell.
Fresh off a new contract, look for Tracy Walker to also get some love. Walker has a unique relationship with coaches, is an ascending player with a key role on defense, and HBO will most likely want to touch on the murder of his cousin Ahmaud Arbery, which offers an important reminder to fans that players are people who suffer through real problems beyond the football field.
In 2019, Jason Cabinda faced some professional adversity on “Hard Knocks” when he was with the Raiders. A favorite of the show that season, his release was an important part of the final episode, and HBO has a prime opportunity to discuss his career resurrection in Detroit.
Finally, this will be Jared Goff’s and Michael Brockers' third time on “Hard Knocks” in the past seven years, as Los Angeles was featured in Goff’s rookie season (2016) and in both of their last seasons with the Rams’ (2020). With the Rams fresh off a Super Bowl, this will probably be one of the first segments HBO shoots.
A deeper look at the Lions' culture change
While there are a plethora of unique player/coach storylines to follow, I’ll be most interested in getting a deeper look at the organization’s culture change. We have gotten snippets through other behind-the-scenes videos, and training camp access is super helpful, but due to COVID-19 protocols we haven’t been able to build relationships with players over the last year, so it’s challenging to get a full picture of how things have changed.
Hopefully, through candid conversations, we can get a further look into how things work behind the scenes. I’ll be looking closely at player-coach interactions. Where is the leadership coming from? How do Campbell and general manager Brad Holmes communicate? How involved is Sheila Ford Hamp? and more things along those lines of thought.
The city of Detroit in the spotlight
Whenever a production like this comes to a city, they typically make sure to show the growth and development of the community and Detroit is worthy of the recognition. The last time the NFL was in Detroit was in 2006 when Randle El was throwing a touchdown pass in the Super Bowl, and there has been a lot of positive things happening in the city since then. Too often the city gets a bad label nationally because people don’t often take the time to really look at the positive changes. Hopefully, “Hard Knocks” will help correct some of those misconceptions.