A week after Hard Knocks: Houston Texans started with a bunch of F-bombs from Texans head coach Bill O’Brien and linebackers coach Mike Vrabel, the second episode started with more F-bombs from O’Brien and Vrabel.
Soon, too, came more of the J.J Watt infomercial that the first episode delivered. Watt is the unquestioned star of the Texans, and it’s almost like the Hard Knocks producers are trying carefully to avoid a Watt overdose.
Hard Knocks is supposed to be raw and real, and O’Brien hasn’t held back. Though Vrabel has played a secondary role, early in the second episode the cameras caught up him close with rookie Lynden Trail — like, practically inside Trail’s facemask — asking Trail how many times he was going to give up the same play.
The answer, apparently, was a bunch. Which brought the cameras back to Vrabel, who was screaming.
“Trail, let’s see if you can play,” Vrabel said. “Here’s what we’re gonna try, we’re all gonna worry about our own f—–g game. There’s plenty to worry about with Trail.”
That set the stage for some other Hard Knocks staples, like the segue from uncensored screaming to a personal off-field piece and, later, the jump from spotlighting an established veteran to a player struggling to make the team. Though this year’s second episode lacked the sizzle of the first, it was heavier on football and dove deeper into stories that didn’t involve Watt or O’Brien.
There was a great O’Brien moment, though, with the head coach addressing his assistants during a practice break. He made it known he was stopping the music that often plays over the speakers during team periods because “I want to hear the play. I want to see what these f—–s know. I want to know what these f—–s know.
“I know you know,” he told his coaches. “We’re telling them what to do on every play and if they don’t know, that’s part of the evaluation and we cut their f—-g asses. Let’s see what the f–k they know.”
From there, Hard Knocks went heavy on highlights of the Texans’ preseason debut last Saturday night. The Brian Hoyer-Ryan Mallett quarterback competition, skimmed over in the first week, was spotlighted in the second half of the newest episode. A montage of both quarterbacks scoring touchdowns in practice was followed by game footage.
Hoyer, who started last week, left the game after one drive and one touchdown. Mallett, who’s starting this weekend vs. the Broncos, played well but mismanaged a two-minute drill and called his own number on a third down and three play, and the cameras caught his post-gaffe conversations with O’Brien.
Veteran linebacker Brian Cushing was shown apologizing to running back Alfred Blue for bumping into him after a play.
“Just kidding,” Cushing said. “I did it on purpose.”
Then came a two-minute sequence of Cushing and Blue battling in a one-on-one pass-protection drill. Cushing challenges Blue to one more try at the end of the drill, and in that additional rep Cushing basically throws Blue to the ground with one hand and touches the tackling dummy with the other. It was total domination and great television.
Blue was caught by the cameras walking away from the drill and saying of Cushing, “That mother f—-r is strong, boy.”
Blue had another quality cameo later when the cameras followed him to a local barber shop on the day before the preseason opener. The barber questioned Blue about his new role as the lead back following Arian Foster’s injury, then asked Blue if he had any insight on the quarterback competition.
Blue responded that he couldn’t talk about that because “I don’t want (O’Brien) cussing me out.”
Earlier in the episode, O’Brien discussed media responsibilities in a full-squad meeting and told his rookies they didn’t have to answer any questions about teammates or just generally made them uncomfortable. When he got a cliche answer from rookie linebacker Benardrick McKinney about just wanting to help the team, O’Brien smiled and called McKinney’s answer “beautiful.”
For three more weeks, though, the Texans have nothing to hide. Every meeting, every word and every battle are caught by cameras and microphones. Hard Knocks, even when it’s not riveting, is thorough.
Near the end of the episode, a play from the preseason opener during which rookie running back Kenny Hilliard found some yardage but took a very stiff shot was replayed from multiple angles. Hilliard was caught coming to the sideline and hearing from O’Brien, “Welcome to the NFL.”
To which Hilliard replied, “This s–t is really real, bro.”
That sums up Hard Knocks. The Texans, their quarterbacks and a bunch of F-bombs will be back next week.