'Hard Knocks,' Week 2: F-bombs from Saleh, rookie love, more Jets moments

ByRich Cimini ESPN logo
Wednesday, August 16, 2023

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- In Episode 2 of "Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the New York Jets," coach Robert Saleh showed a different side to his personality. Behind closed doors, a fuming Saleh went after the big fellas.

Rarely critical of players in public, Saleh -- in a team meeting last week in Spartanburg, South Carolina -- called out the offensive line for its poor performance in a joint practice against the Carolina Panthers.

Saleh started by praising the defense, then he cranked up the heat.

"Offense, it was our first f---ing opportunity to change the stink that's been in this organization for a very long time on the offensive side of the ball," he screamed midway through the episode, which aired Tuesday night on HBO. "You can have a Hall of Fame quarterback, you can have two $10 million-plus receivers, you can have a reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year, you can have all kinds of skill in the running back room. None of it f---ing matters until the big boys up front change who the f--- we are."

Saleh's leadership became a talking point on New York sports radio last week when two hosts questioned his demeanor in the first episode. They criticized him for being too soft, even questioning his use of F-bombs.

This time, Saleh delivered a profanity-laced tirade in his reality check to the offensive line.

"We proved last year that we're a 7-10 football team with a really f---ing good defense and a mediocre offense," he told the team. "That's what we proved. Flip that f---ing s---!"

Other takeaways from the episode, which tracks the Jets on their practices in South Carolina and the ensuing game against the Panthers (a 27-0 win):

Another heavy dose of Aaron Rodgers: What, you thought the producers would forget all about him after a week?

The Rodgers story is weaved throughout the episode, covering everything from his deft ball faking to his quirky habit of picking blades of grass from the field. He explained that he started doing it early in his career with the Green Bay Packers, saying he wanted to get a feel for the frozen turf and wind direction at Lambeau Field.

There were some cool moments between Rodgers and Panthers rookie Bryce Young, the No. 1 overall pick, like Rodgers offering some advice and telling Young, "I'm a big fan of yours." Young seemed to genuinely appreciate the gesture.

Most cringeworthy moment: A camera followed Jets first-round pick Will McDonald to a tattoo parlor, where he sat for an eyebrow piercing and a nose piercing. The needle in his nostril was ... well, graphic. McDonald is no stranger to body piercings, but he still shed a tear because it hurt.

McDonald was one of the stars of this episode, which circled back to his performance in Carolina. The rookie edge rusher recorded his first sack, along with five quarterback pressures, earning compliments from the Panthers' offensive linemen during the game. They called him "shifty."

Another cringeworthy moment: The rookie show, which was supposed to be fun and entertaining, was an absolute flop. The rookies were booed off the stage, with some vets firing crumpled-up pieces of paper at them. Hey, not everyone can be Aidan Hutchinson, the Detroit Lions defensive lineman who sang Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean"in last year's "Hard Knocks."

Where's the Cook? For the second straight week, there was no mention of running back Dalvin Cook, who agreed to a contract Monday evening. Another omission: There were no revealing player evaluations between coaches and the personnel department. Typically, that's one of the highlights of "Hard Knocks" -- decision-makers discussing the strengths and weaknesses of players.

Q Ball: Defensive tackle Quinnen Williams, who signed a $96 million contract extension before training camp, got plenty of love. He dominated the Panthers in the joint practice, racking up 10 sacks by his count. He was either laughing or wreaking havoc. Owner Woody Johnson, who was mic'd up, offered his take on the new contract: "It's a lot of money."

Wizard of Oz: Well-known mentalist Oz Pearlman entertained the team with card and mind tricks, supernatural stuff that blew away everybody and left Rodgers speechless. Pearlman managed to get inside their heads, as if he was intercepting their thoughts. It was pretty entertaining.

Fantastic finish: In a quarterbacks meeting, passing-game coordinator Todd Downing introduced the players to "Cinema Sunday: Educating an underprivileged generation in the art of moving pictures." It was a tribute to comedian Leslie Nielsen, and he actually showed hilarious lines from Nielsen's movies on a big screen.