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‘Hard Knocks’ Episode 2: Justin Herbert Works to Find His Voice

Plus, the uphill battle for undrafted free agents, how the Chargers and Rams are continuing to address COVID-19, and why you should never mess with Aaron Donald

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Ducks can be pretty noisy animals. But not Justin Herbert. As this week’s episode of HBO’s Hard Knocks explained, the Oregon product spent most of his college career using silent counts and claps of his hands ahead of the ball being snapped. Now, he’s being thrust into an NFL offense that requires him to be vocal at the line of scrimmage.

One common criticism of Herbert was, go figure, his quietness. During Tuesday’s episode, Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn mentioned Herbert’s reserved nature while speaking with an assistant and conceded, “You gotta let him do his own personality.”

At one point, Lynn had to explain to Herbert that his presnap cadence was too predictable, and he was giving away when a run or pass was called. With veteran Tyrod Taylor in the fold, Herbert likely won’t have to worry about being the Chargers’ no. 1 quarterback immediately, but hopefully Herbert’s course on cadences goes smoother than Lynn’s tutorial on learning to use a megaphone:

Below are four additional takeaways from this week’s episode of Hard Knocks.

Finding the next Austin Ekeler will be a challenge.

Earlier this offseason, the Chargers handed Austin Ekeler a four-year, $24.5 million contract with $15 million guaranteed. That wouldn’t have happened if Ekeler hadn’t shown out as an undrafted free agent during Los Angeles’s 2017 training camp and preseason slate. Because of COVID-19, the NFL season won’t feature any preseason games, meaning undrafted free agents and other fringe-roster players won’t get a chance to show teams what they can contribute in a game setting.

Lynn said that without the preseason, he “never would’ve saw” what Ekeler could produce. He recently told Sports Illustrated that he even “fear[s] missing out on someone like that under these circumstances.”

During this week’s episode, Ekeler explained how valuable those preseason reps were to him and walked rookie UDFA running back Darius Bradwell through drills. Bradwell caught some flak from Lynn and Chargers strength coach John Lott, who pushed the newcomer to try to get his weight down. It will be interesting to follow Bradwell, who rushed for 1,134 yards as a junior at Tulane in 2018, as he pushes to make the Chargers roster. He could be an example of the type of fringe player who doesn’t get a true chance to display his skills without the preseason.

The battle against COVID-19 remains a focus.

At 38 years old, Andrew Whitworth, is old—at least for an NFL player. He nearly retired after undergoing ankle surgery this past offseason. “There’s a reason Andrew Whitworth is going into his 40th season in the NFL!” Rams coach Sean McVay joked during a team meeting. This isn’t even Whitworth’s first Hard Knocks—back in 2009, his fourth season in the league, the documentary series followed the Cincinnati Bengals.

Whitworth opened up about his family’s bout with COVID-19, which he said was transmitted to him, his wife, kids and in-laws through their nanny, who’d gone out to lunch with a friend and developed symptoms shortly after. Whitworth’s family has recovered and all members are healthy. Whitworth described doing normal things like attending outings is “not necessarily [a bad decision],” but heeded caution to avoid spreading the disease.

Seth Ryan, a Chargers offensive quality control coach, was flagged for a false positive test during this week’s episode. Ryan, the son of former NFL coach Rex Ryan, was initially quarantined and kept away from the team but didn’t experience any symptoms. He was permitted to return after he registered two negative tests. The situation resembled that of Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, who initially was flagged for a positive COVID-19 test result, but after the NFL altered testing protocols for those who test positive and are asymptomatic, was allowed to return to the team upon registering two negative results. Chargers players were shown wearing tracking bracelets, too.

Clay Johnston is our new Hard Knocks darling.

“Fudge!”

The Rams picked Baylor linebacker Clay Johnston in the seventh round of the 2020 draft, and as far as Hard Knocks is concerned, they clearly hit a bull’s-eye. The stocky defender made it clear just how badly he wants to be good, explaining to teammates, “God! I just wanna be perfect!” During mistakes, he kept blurting out “Fudge!” instead of swearing.

He also came up with a clever nickname for linebacker Terrell Lewis, who sported a visor in this week’s episode.

Let’s not forget Donte Deayon, though. Much like last week, his short cameo brought us all joy.

Don’t mess with Aaron Donald.

Aaron Donald is a five-time All-Pro. He’s a two-time Defensive Player of the Year. He trains with knives. And he is absolutely shredded.

I’m not sure what the takeaway here is other than do not mess with Aaron Donald under any circumstances because as the Hard Knocks narrator said, he’s the baddest defensive lineman on the planet.