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Hawkeyes Make the Cut on Hard Knocks

Who sticks around in the season finale?

SoFi Stadium home of the Los Angeles Chargers and Los Angeles Rams. Photo by Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images

We all knew it was coming.

Cut day. The most dramatic day of the year was saved for the finale of this years football drama on HBO’s Hard Knocks.

While this week’s episode lacked some of the real-world elements that gave other installments of this season a certain sheen, the capstone felt the most normal. There was no talk of testing, strife, unrest or any of the other harsh realities of… reality. Just people scared to tell Sean McVay how to properly wear a mask, and McVay cutting said people, nose exposed.

The cutting episode always has the same arc: we see the rookies putting in extra work to make the cut. We see veterans, this week it was Jalen Ramsey and Aaron Donald, giving last-minute advice to a group of guys who’ve been all but mathematically eliminated from the roster.

We’re then transported to the last practice of training camp. And we either see those guys fail miserably, or prosper. Clay Johnston and Dont’e Deayon were Hard Knocks darlings this season, Johnston more than any player I can ever remember. And in a moment that makes you wonder if the show isn’t really scripted, Deayon forces a fumble during the live scrimmage portion of practice, leaving it for Johnston to scoop and score, which he does.

It’s the kind of happenstance that makes your stomach turn.

For one reason or another, we’ve seen very little of Derwin James this season. He finally gets some screen time as we’re given a brief history of Derwin James. Then he cramps up. And then we learn he tore his meniscus. Not the one he tore his sophomore year at Florida State. The other one.

He’s since been put on the IR after a surgery that’s expected to take 6-8 months to recover.

The good news pours on as we finally make it to the meat on the cutting board. Due to 2020, teams have four extra slots on their practice squad this year, bumping that number up to 16. That took a little bit away from the drama, as coaches added they’ll likely re-sign these players to the practice squad if they don’t make a 53-man roster elsewhere.

Juju Hughes was the first blood drawn by the Rams. But he’s back on the practice squad already. Deayon was next, and now joins Hughes on the practice squad.

And finally, (fucking finally) Clay Johnston got the snip. His college coaches—now with the Carolina Panthers—wouldn’t let the Rams get him back after he cleared waivers, though. It sounded like Johnston had a choice between going to the practice squad for either team, which is a choice to have. This scenario was even described in the show as Johnston was getting cut. So good for the Panthers.

Former Iowa safety Jake Gervase was a member of the Rams throughout Hard Knocks, but I can’t recall ever seeing him or his jersey number even in passing during the show. He’s not on the Rams practice squad according to the link above, but Sean Bock says otherwise.

The other three former Hawkeyes on the show—Andrew Donnal for the Rams, and Bryan Bulaga and Desmond King for the Chargers—are safely on the 53-man roster for each team.

This season of Hard Knocks had the advantage of doubling its cast by shadowing two teams, each new to their locale. We got to see two wildly different coaching personalities between Sean McVay and Anthony Lynn, and we’ll probably get a lot of bonus content once they decide to release that stuff.

The extra-large cast made going back-and-forth a little confusing, though. And with more metaphorical mouths to feed, we got to spend less time each week with the personalities that compelled us most. I could’ve watched a show on Melvin Ingram only. I want more of Jalen Ramsey house hunting in The Valley. I NEED Chargers receiver coach Philip McGeoghan to cold-open Sunday Countdown this year.

In its first two episodes, the show really flew. Then I imagine the amount of content two camera crews filmed bogged down a cohesive vision of the show. And then real life got in the way, derailing any sort of narrative that was or wasn’t being constructed by the showrunners.

All in all, this season achieved its purpose. I was entertained for five hours during a time where I’ll take five hours of entertainment anywhere I can get it. It made me a fan of Tyrod Taylor and Ingram and Keenan Allen and I’ll probably now tune into Chargers games when I wouldn’t have otherwise this season.

And of course, it reminded us we’ve got NFL football this week.

Musings

  • I especially like it when Tyrod Taylor says ‘yes sir!’ after he flicks the ball away, knowing his receiver is gonna make a play.
  • The Chargers breakdown on “Family on 3.”
  • It was a pretty weak season in terms of getting Hawkeyes screen time. Bryan Bulaga had the only soundbite shown in the finale. As credits rolled, we see him taping up, asking the cameraman how much the narrator gets paid. While his Hard Knocks salary is hush hush, I can report that Liev Schreiber is worth $25 million. Or in other words, a whole lot less than Bulaga.