'Hard Knocks,' Week 1: The Jets take off

ByRich Cimini ESPN logo
Wednesday, August 9, 2023

In the span of a few years, the New York Jets have gone from laughingstock to must-see TV.

With their future Hall of Fame quarterback, charismatic coach and saucy cornerback, they debuted Tuesday night on HBO's "Hard Knocks '23: Training Camp with the New York Jets." For a camera-shy team -- remember, they didn't want this gig -- the Jets come off as a loose, fun-loving team that marvels at everything Aaron Rodgers says and does.

Predictably, Rodgers is the star of the first episode. For the first 12 minutes, it's all about him, with comparisons to Joe Namath spliced into the opening. You see Rodgers' practice highlights, his no-look passes, funny interactions with teammates and coaches and, of course, The Call Heard 'Round the World -- his playcall on Zach Wilson's 57-yard bomb last Thursday night in the Hall of Fame Game.

Everybody gushes about Rodgers, but the best compliment comes from defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich.

Breaking down practice tape with his players, Ulbrich tells them, "Guys, this [pass] is across the f---ing field, on the back shoulder. Look at this. I don't know if there's any other human on Earth that can make that f---ing throw. He's our quarterback. He's ours. He's ours."

Other highlights from Episode 1:

Best quote: "You'll be here one day." Rodgers says this to star cornerback Sauce Gardner during the pregame warmups in Canton, Ohio -- essentially telling the second-year player that he's destined for the Hall of Fame. Gardner replies, "That's the plan." To which Rodgers responds, "I'll be old and gray when that happens."

Best moment: In coach Robert Saleh's first team meeting, he addresses the huge expectations for the season, sharing a quirky story about a crow and an eagle. He says the crow is the only bird with enough guts to attack an eagle, which responds by soaring to greater heights -- so high that the crow eventually suffocates. In Saleh's metaphor, the Jets are the eagle, the naysayers are the crows. Hey, it works nicely as a tone-setter for the show.

Weirdest scene: Actor and "Hard Knocks" narrator Liev Schreiber arrives by helicopter and watches practice from the sideline. It's odd seeing Schreiber, the iconic voice of the show, in the actual show. He schmoozes with Rodgers, who turns into a gushing fanboy. He constantly refers to Schreiber as "the voice of God" and encourages teammates to introduce themselves to him.

"I've been a fan of yours forever," Rodgers tells Schreiber.

Funny line from Schreiber: "Full disclosure: I wanted to drive, but the producers thought a helicopter might be more dramatic."

Breakout star: It looks like backup linebacker Chazz Surratt has a roster spot locked up. Saleh, miked up during the preseason games, raves about Surratt after he makes a big play.

"He's so fast," Saleh says. "God, I love that f---ing guy. ... That guy is so good."

Surratt's days of anonymity are over.

Glaring omission: There's no mention of free agent running back Dalvin Cook, who sparked a lot of publicity during his visit to a practice more than a week ago. He was followed by cameras on his visit, fueling speculation that he'd be one of the storylines. Turns out the only non-roster running backs in the episode are retired backs Curtis Martin and Tiki Barber, both visitors to practice.

Funniest line: Theater-goer Solomon Thomas, speaking to his fellow defensive linemen, says he'd like to take them to a Broadway show, but he wants them to be respectful of the performance. In a discussion about proper etiquette for Broadway, Tanzel Smart blurts out he wants to go to a show and eat a "char-coochie board."

Belichick dig? Ulbrich, in the defensive meeting, appears to mock the "Do your job" line made famous by New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick. "F--- that," says Ulbrich, imploring his players to do their job and a little bit more.