No hard-knock life is harder than that of the Cleveland Browns. Coming off the second 0-16 season in NFL history, the Browns drafted one of the most exciting QB prospects to enter the league in years and added veterans they hope will change the culture. The team is giving an all-access look at their progress for Hard Knocks: Training Camp With the Cleveland Browns, and we’ll be breaking down each episode with what you need to know.
Episode MVP: Mychal Kendricks
“[Zach Ertz] is the best receiver on the team,” the former Eagles linebacker tells the Browns ahead of their preseason game against Philadelphia. “Notice how I said ‘receiver.’ When it comes to blocking, you fucking hit his ass over and over. He doesn’t want any smoke.” (Note: He earned his MVP honors before he was indicted Wednesday on insider trading charges.)
Kendricks won the Super Bowl with Philly in February and signed with Cleveland after he was released. We always hear about players moving to new teams and giving “scouting reports” on their old teammates; seeing Kendricks give the lowdown on the Super Bowl champs is what makes Hard Knocks great. He also suggests cornerbacks play Nick Foles’s deep ball a hair slower than they would normally and shares that left tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai “doesn’t trust his feet at all. You get on him, his confidence will go down.”
It was good advice. The Browns defense walloped the Eagles in a 5-0 win, Foles threw two interceptions, Ertz caught just four passes for 26 yards, and Browns defensive end Myles Garrett had two sacks while using Vaitai as a blocking sled. The best scouting is good, old-fashioned espionage.
Most Interesting Thing We Saw: Josh Gordon
Fewer than five minutes into the episode, Gordon returns to the building after missing the first three weeks of training camp (or, as Hue Jackson tells general manager John Dorsey, “the big fish is in the building”). The camera cuts to Gordon at his locker, who is looking over plays on his team-issued tablet.
“Not too many new plays!” Gordon says. “Good for me. I’m low-key surprised, though. … Pretty much like the same shit. Y’all been doing this for a month? Two months? [Laughs.] I pretty much know all of these, so I’m straight.”
Gordon, who reported late to training camp to focus on his mental health and sobriety, attended Browns OTAs and minicamp, so perhaps he is referencing Cleveland’s progress since June, when new offensive coordinator Todd Haley presumably began installing the new system. Still, Cleveland’s best player taking one look at the playbook and laughing, then watching the offense score just three points in Week 3 of the preseason, does not bode well for the 2018 season.
Baker Mayfield Update of the Week: Tiger
After the Browns beat the Eagles (I know it’s the preseason, but it’s still wild to type that), Philadelphia defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz tells Baker, “I never played, but if I did, I wish I played like you.” That’s really sweet.
The true highlight of the week, however, comes when Jackson roasts Baker for posting an underwear ad on Instagram.
First of all, Mayfield looks like Derek Zoolander with the sun in his eyes. Second, I hope this is Photoshopped, because tiger bites would almost certainly void Baker’s guaranteed money.
Between these photos and the “Earn your stripes” preseason slogan, the Browns are identifying way too frequently with tigers. There’s already an NFL team associated with tigers, in Ohio, that wears orange. The Browns need to find a new alpha predator from a different biome.
Animals aside, another highlight comes when Baker flips the tables with his impersonation of John Dorsey, which was released on YouTube a week ago. Watching Dorsey watch the impersonation of him wearing the exact same outfit and chewing his gum in the exact same way truly highlights Baker’s attention to detail. If Baker can recognize Dorsey’s specific way of walking down the hallway, he’ll have no problem identifying complicated blitz coverages on the field.
Athletes, They’re Just Like Us: Carl Nassib’s Alien Conspiracy Theories
“Aliens are real,” Carl Nassib says about halfway through the episode. “I don’t know that they are, but I think that they’re real.”
Defensive end Nate Orchard is skeptical, but Garrett agrees.
“How could you think that in all the universe there is not another intelligent thing of life?” Garrett says, offering a reasonable, measured response. Nassib nods and quickly says, “Well, this is what I say. This is what’s fucked up …”
At this point, Garrett either gets pulled into another conversation (unlikely) or senses he’s on camera and invents a reason to remove himself from this conversation (very likely). Nassib walks to the other side of Orchard and begins whispering like he’s got a new theory about the JFK assassination.
“So the Canadian prime minister of defense, who is equivalent to our secretary of defense, it’s just a different name, came out publicly and said that the United States is in contact with three different alien species,” Nassib says. “This fucker is like one of the top admin officials, and he went on record saying this shit.”
Orchard is not convinced.
“Why are you lying, Carl?”
Carl is not lying––Nassib is referring to Paul Hellyer––but he gets the basic facts wrong; Hellyer claimed that four different alien species have visited Earth, not three, and he’s been saying it for decades. Also, Hellyer was the minister of national defense in the mid-’60s, not the prime minister of defense. Get your facts straight, Carl!
Later in the episode, Nassib wanders around a museum, looking at dinosaur bones, and you can all but see the conspiracies forming in his mind, like in that Zach Galifianakis meme. Nassib is your friend who falls down YouTube algorithm–generated rabbit holes and is “just asking questions.” I don’t know Carl, but we all know a Carl.
Quote of the Week
When Gordon enters FirstEnergy Stadium for the first time in 2018, he is immediately hounded for autographs by two fans likely old enough to appreciate his superstardom but far too young to understand the troubles that have kept him away from the sport. Gordon gives the kids his gloves. A few moments later, Fox Sports reporter Kristina Pink asks him if he has a message to share after the ups and downs he’s experienced.
“Love yourself,” Gordon says. “Love yourself. Love anything. It’s tough, but love anything. Try and love yourself.”
That message is worth celebrating with the same zeal the kids displayed.
Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.