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What We Learned From ‘Hard Knocks,’ Episode 5

Cutdown day came and went, sweeping out some fan favorites in the process


No Hard Knock Life is harder than that of the Cleveland Browns. Coming off the second 0-16 in NFL history, the Browns drafted one of the most exciting QB prospects to enter the league in years and added veterans that say they hope to 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.

Hard Knocks MVP: Todd Haley

Aside from Bob Wylie’s dissertation on stretching during World War II, Haley was the only source of what could be described as “wisdom” from the Cleveland coaching staff on this season of the show. Coming from Pittsburgh, Haley was often at odds with the way the Browns operated—which is best summed up by this screenshot from this week’s episode.

But his comic relief cemented him as the show’s MVP in Tuesday’s finale. We saw Haley point out that the Rick Ross music blaring during practice seems at odds with the Sunday morning church services happening adjacent to the Browns’ practice field.

Haley’s true MVP form was on display as he verbally sparred with defensive coordinator Gregg Williams all August. On Tuesday, he unleashed his masterpiece. Haley, wearing a “Respect the Process” T-shirt, turned to Williams in a meeting.

“I’m beginning to find out you have no life outside of this.” Todd Haley, we salute you.

Baker Mayfield Update of the Week: Baker’s a Good Hang

The episode, which focused on roster cutdowns, was light on Baker, who was almost definitely not going to get released (though you never know with the Browns). After five episodes of Hard Knocks, we can now officially conclude that Baker is funny. Walking out to the final preseason game of the year, Baker told Devon Cajuste, the mineral-obsessed tight end on the roster bubble, “Treat the ball like one of your rocks.” Combined with Episode 3, when Baker asked an assistant coach whether he preferred Nickelback to Brad Paisley, and it seems that Baker is a good hang—but don’t ask him to go skydiving.

Athletes, They’re Just Like Us: Getting Fired Sucks

Many of the characters we met over the previous four weeks—Cajuste, defensive ends Carl Nassib and Nate Orchard, quarterback Brogan Roback (a.k.a. Brobie; a.k.a. the guy who had Baker list his phone number under BRObie)—were all let go via the same process on cutdown day: Assistant general manager Eliot Wolf asked them to come to the facility. He met with them and sent them to Hue Jackson’s office for a final goodbye, and then they cleared out their things. All the while, Moose the office dog roamed the hallways like the Angel of Death.

Cajuste, who has been released before, handled it stoically. Orchard, who had never been released and has children we’d seen throughout the season, was more rattled. Brobie, fresh off the fourth preseason game in which he threw a touchdown pass and ran to the end zone to scoop up the ball as a keepsake, knew he was likely out and spent most of his time thanking everybody.

The hardest to see was Nassib, who had already made the 53-man roster but was released when the Browns scooped players cut from other teams off waivers. The most charismatic player of the season was suddenly devoid of personality. Nassib was the fun-loving amateur financial adviser who gave advice based on 10 percent interest rates and floated alien conspiracy theories between plays. But the Nassib we see in this episode wasn’t having fun. Unlike the others, we didn’t see him get the phone call or meet with Wolf. You get the sense Nassib declined a final interview before leaving the facility (as is his right—who wants to talk about being fired on television?)”. Instead, Nassib walked into Jackson’s office, thanked him for the opportunity, and bolted.

Nassib signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday, so there is hope for him. Still, seeing the show’s class clown reduced to the show’s most serious character was a sobering reminder that everything about the sport—just like the growth rate of the American economy—is fleeting.

Tearjerker of the Week (and Season): Devon Cajuste

In Episode 2, we met tight end Cajuste’s father, Gregory, who flew to see Cajuste at training camp and said he’s dealt with serious medical problems (including revealing to Devon on camera he had recently had another heart attack). Gregory wasn’t able to come to the final preseason game because of health issues, but he was adamant that Devon would make the team throughout the episode.

“Never give up,” Gregory said. “It’s not my time to go, and it’s definitely not his time to go … I’d love him to make this team.”

Cajuste did not make the team. The Browns cut him after he flashed strong receiving skills but mixed blocking issues and poorly timed penalties in the final preseason game. Cajuste took the news as would be expected, and headed to a bench overlooking Lake Erie. Clutching his mystical minerals (not rocks!), Cajuste FaceTimed his father to give him the news. Devon started laughing awkwardly. Gregory interpreted this as good news and began laugh-screaming in pure, ecstatic celebration. Devon cut him off.

“So, I got released.”

You could see the record frame scratch flash across Gregory’s eyes as his face froze. And then Devon made fun of his dad’s sad face, and the two jubilantly laughed again as Devon explained waivers and how he’ll find the next team.

“What do you do now then?” Gregory asked.

“I’m just sitting at the bench,” Devon said.

As sad as it was to watch players get released, Cajuste’s ability to immediately put the day in perspective while still keeping his eye on his next job was remarkable.

Quotes of the Week

“People always remember what they see last,” senior offensive assistant Al Saunders said five minutes into the final episode of Hard Knocks. Saunders meant it as motivation for Cajuste in his final preseason game, but surely it was on the minds of the show’s producers when they chose to end on the following quote from Gregg Williams.

“Put your testicles in the C-gap,” Williams said in the final outtake of the closing credits of the season. The clip will surely go viral in the next few days, and it perfectly represented the dichotomy of Williams—funny, but also constantly reminding us that he shouldn’t be allowed to coach in the NFL after the Bountygate scandal, whether it’s criticizing cornerback Denzel Ward after getting injured, defending the players hitting Baker Mayfield in practice, or screaming at his team at halftime in the preseason games like a sadistic Little League coach.

Yet the lasting image in this episode that will stick with me is not Williams talking about testicles, or Haley telling him to get a life, or even Hue Jackson telling Roback that “dreams don’t die.” It’s 22-year-old Myles Garrett tutoring the 25-year-old Nate Orchard on rushing the passer.

Orchard, who converted from outside linebacker to defensive end last year as part of Williams’s arrival in 2017, struggled with consistency. Working with Orchard after practice, Garrett uncovered why: Orchard uses a different stance for rushing the passer than he does defending the run, and he guesses each time. Defensively, this is malpractice. Orchard admitted the run stance he uses makes him slower getting to the quarterback.

“Well we only got 2.5 seconds,” Garrett said. “You haven’t thought of trying to rush in the same stance?

“I haven’t,” Orchard said.

The next game, Orchard had his best performance of the preseason and returned a pick-six for a touchdown.

Orchard switched positions but wasn’t coached in the most basic aspect of that switch—the way he puts his hand onto the ground. It went unnoticed by his coaches for more than a year and was pointed out only when Garrett—a second-year player—said something. Orchard’s story was merely an anecdote, but it also spoke volumes about the Browns’ inability to develop talent despite a cornucopia of draft picks in recent years. Saunders was right that people remember the last thing they see, and the last thing we saw Orchard practicing before his best game of the preseason was players coaching themselves. It explains quite a bit about the Hue Jackson era.