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Can the Buccaneers Save "Hard Knocks"?

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I think it’s safe to say that there’s not a man, woman or child within the sound of my writing voice right now that doesn’t agree HBO’s Hard Knocks peaked with the Rex Ryan New York Jets season seven years ago. In the Dolphins season, watching Joe Philbin trying to fill Rex’ shoes was like those episodes of The Office when Robert California replaced Michael Scott. The Bengals didn’t provide a single memorable moment. There was decent little comeback there with the Texans, thanks mainly to Vince & Bianca Wilfork and J.J. Watt’s unrelenting camera-whoring. You knew the Falcons season was doomed in Episode One the minute Matt Ryan declared he likes to do nothing and go to bed early. Because you know what have been more interesting than that? Any fucking thing in the world. And the Rams last year was saved only by Jeff Fisher playing to the camera and finding out that Carson Wentz doesn’t know where the sun rises or sets.

So in general, Hard Knocks has been one of those shows in decline that I keep watching just because I always have. Like LOST, which I stuck with long after realizing it wasn’t heading anywhere and the writers were just throwing a bunch of shit at a wall with no intention of resolving anything and it turned out at the end everyone was actually dead the entire time. But unlike LOST, Hard Knocks: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers is giving me a glimmer of hope the series is making a comeback.

So far one episode in, the Bucs are showing some of the elements that made the show worth watching in the first place. For starters, they’re one of the more compelling teams in the league in 2017. They were the worst team in football two seasons ago but who have spent money and drafted wisely and appear to be on the rise, with a blend of aging stars and potential young studs to at least give you some story lines.

Take for instance, Jameis Winston. So far he comes across more as the colorful character who shoplifted crab legs and yelled FHRITP in college, and not the monster who got accused of rape. And whether he’s visiting the dilapidated house he grew up in, giving a life talk at his football camp or getting reamed for throwing a terrible pick in practice, at least he’s compelling. Someone who’ll spend the next few years sitting on that superstar/draft bust fulcrum while we watch to see which way it tips.

So far Dirk Koetter comes across as the most interesting head coach they’ve had since at least Bill O’Brien. He doesn’t seem like he’s full of shit the way Fisher was or nearly as dull as Mike Smith. And when his coaches use the construction going on at their practice facility as a metaphor and say things like “The road to success is always under construction,” that’s the kind of stuff I ate up when I was riding the bench for the 0-9 Weymouth South freshman team.

Gerald McCoy is the obligatory colorful, funny larger-than-life Football Guy that is to Hard Knocks what the sassy, gossipy gay friend is to every Real Housewives or the obnoxious Masshole is to Survivor: The life’s blood of the show. Without that guy, there’s no reason to send your cameras and mics to the field.

But the best veterans so far are DeSean Jackson and Mike Evans. The dynamic between the big money veteran burner and the big, young, physical possession receiver is compelling and their chemistry seems great. Plus it’s fun to watch them having to test the limits of their catch radii on every target because Winston seems to underthrow/back shoulder every throw.

Plus add in the usual assortment of bubble players, roster cuts, Jon Gruden and heroic underdog white guys that Danny Woodhead set the template for, and it’s so far, so good. Best of all, they teased next week’s episode and it’s going to feature my Valkyrie and beloved Internet wife, Miko Grimes. I am ALL in.

@jerrythornton1