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A Field Guide to a Very Los Angeles Season of ‘Hard Knocks’

Can the Rams follow the blueprint to TV success?

Jared Goff (Getty Images)
Jared Goff (Getty Images)

Season 11 of Hard Knocks is set to premiere on Tuesday night, giving viewers an inside look at the reborn Los Angeles Rams’ 2016 training camp. By now, you probably know the drill: The series will focus on stars and journeymen alike, spotlight the trials and tribulations of rookies, and prove that NFL coaches are the closest thing we have to zombies. Over the years, the Hard Knocks producers have come to rely on a number of predictable tropes, and it’s always fun to forecast who will fill each role before a season debuts. Here’s our best guess for this season:

Hotshot Rookie: Jared Goff (unfortunately)

Well, this was obvious. Goff isn’t just the Rams’ most prominent rookie — the no. 1 overall pick is their only prominent rookie, seeing as L.A. didn’t make another selection until the fourth round. As the top pick and presumptive quarterback of the future, Goff is naturally under enormous pressure. In light of Nick Foles’s release, he’ll start at some point in the upcoming season after the Rams grow weary of Case Keenum’s inevitable struggles against one of the most difficult schedules in the NFL. More than anything, though, Goff is expected to become the face of a franchise, a la Mark Sanchez in the Jets’ season of Hard Knocks. And not just any franchise: a franchise that just moved to Hollywood, of all places. Does Goff have the charisma to take the Los Angeles sports scene by storm, or will he be the NFL equivalent of John David Booty at USC? Early signs point toward the latter. From a purely documentary perspective, it’s a pity the Rams didn’t take Carson Wentz first overall. His North Dakotan dopiness is out of control, and surely would have been a hit with L.A. fans. Given his infamous gas station bathroom fiasco, he would have likely been a gold mine of unintentional comedy.

Budding Star: Todd Gurley

Gurley’s had his sights set on Los Angeles since college, so we can assume that he’ll embrace the spotlight. He’s the first running back going off the board in fantasy drafts and is coming off a Rookie of the Year campaign, but I think his spectacular 2015 season — in which he rushed for 1,106 yards and 10 touchdowns — was just a taste of what’s to come this year. Gurley is now almost two years removed from his 2014 ACL tear, and assuming Goff is an upgrade over the dreadful duo of Foles and Keenum, opposing defenses will have to respect the Rams’ passing game more this year, giving Gurley more room to run. Accordingly, expect Hard Knocks to give Gurley the superstar treatment. After all, he’s about to be one.

Lovable Underdog: Ian Seau

The nephew of the late, great Junior Seau, Ian Seau signed with the Rams as an undrafted free agent after a decorated career at Nevada. He’s eminently qualified to follow in Charles James’s footsteps as Hard Knocks’ resident Rudy: he’s undersized and lacks “upfield juice” and “reactive athleticism,” but is lauded for his relentless motor and “refuses to stop until the whistle blows.” It’s going to be very emotional when he gets cut.

Embattled Veteran: Greg Robinson

It’s now or never for Robinson, the left tackle and no. 2 overall pick in the 2014 draft, who’s been plagued by injuries, penalties, and 10.5 sacks allowed in his brief, fruitless career. Robinson is perilously close to being labeled an unsalvageable bust, but given the Rams’ general offensive line woes, he should at least get one more training camp to demonstrate his worth. Robinson “wants to prove something” this season, according to Jeff Fisher, and the show’s producers might look to ramp up the drama of his make-or-break year, since his duties are ostensibly to keep the Rams’ prized possession intact.

Monotonous, Uninspiring Coach: Jeff Fisher

Rams coach Jeff Fisher (Getty Images)
Rams coach Jeff Fisher (Getty Images)

In Hard Knocks, coaches tend to fall into one of two categories: profane motivators and boring playbook nerds. Rex Ryan and Bill O’Brien embodied the former, while Marvin Lewis and Joe Philbin typified the latter. Lamentably, Fisher seems destined to top Philbin as the dullest coach in Hard Knocks history. Have you ever watched his pressers? They’re almost as boring as Fisher is consistently average: 10 of his 21 seasons as head coach have resulted in either seven- or eight-win campaigns.

Special Teams Doofus: Johnny Hekker

Hekker, a punter for the Rams, has a high bar to clear: In 2010, Jets punter Steve Weatherford bought his teammates a bunch of Shake Weights thinking it’d take the team to the promised land. But Hekker could be the best Hard Knocks specialist since Weatherford punted a football directly into our hearts. I can’t be the only one praying that Rams practice involves Hekker regularly taking cheap shots at much larger players and coming to his senses way too late:

I’ve never been so excited to watch punting drills.

Reclamation Project: Quinton Coples

Coples, a 2012 first-round pick out of North Carolina, boasts plenty of athleticism and … not much else. He was cut by the Jets last November, claimed off waivers by the Dolphins before being dumped in February, and signed by the Rams to a two-year, $6.5 million deal in March. He’ll attempt to fill Chris Long’s role as a backup defensive end in L.A., and prepare for the Hard Knocks producers to showcase his fraternity arm brands whenever possible.

Uplifting Comeback Story: Mark Barron

The Buccaneers drafted Barron, a safety out of Alabama, with the no. 7 pick in 2012. He played two mediocre seasons in Tampa Bay, was traded to the Rams for just a fourth- and a sixth-round pick midway through 2014, and came to be regarded as another in a long line of Crimson Tide defensive busts. However, in 2015, an injury to Alec Ogletree caused Barron to move to outside linebacker, where he thrived, racking up 93 tackles in the final 11 games of the season. During the offseason, he re-upped with the Rams for five years and $45 million, and figures to improve with an offseason of linebacker practice under his belt.

Meathead Lineman: Eric Kush

It seems that the journeyman center and 2013 sixth-rounder was born for the camera:

There is no player on the roster with a name more fit for a Los Angeles team, but the NFL presumably won’t allow any weed jokes to make the show. Nevertheless, if the Rams’ offensive line can’t keep Goff upright, L.A. fans might start calling their shake “Eric.”

Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.