Wednesday, September 15, 2010

"Hard Knocks" Hopefuls

AP Photo/Gerald Herbert

For the past five Wednesday’s, NFL fans have gotten the chance to get exclusive access to the New York Jets training camp thanks to the HBO show “Hard Knocks”. With the season started though, the television show has wrapped up.

The show has been quite popular over the past few years, as camera crew have gone inside the locker room, on the playing field and in the general manager’s office of the Kansas City Chiefs in 2007, the Dallas Cowboys in 2008, the Cincinnati Bengals in 2009, and the New York Jets this past offseason.

The show works for a few reasons: the inside access, the drama of personnel moves, and the comedy courtesy of the characters the show develops—after all, it was on “Hard Knocks” that the phrase “child please” reached pop culture status.

So with the latest season come and gone, it is time to take a look at potential replacements for next year’s installment.

Yes, a lot of things could happen from now until next preseason, causing some teams to have more buzz than others, but here is a list of teams that feature compelling storylines and characters, as well as having some success on the field, that would be great features on the show.

And there has to be some reality in it happening. So as much as it would be nice to finally see inside the New England Patriots’ fortress known as Gillette Stadium, Bill Belichick would never in a million years allow that kind of access to his football team. So you won’t see the Pats on this list.

Denver Broncos

In two seasons as head coach, Josh McDaniels has jettisoned his starting quarterback (Jay Cutler) and number one wide receiver (Brandon Marshall). After starting 2009 6-0, Denver finished 8-8. There’s a lot of frustration in the organization and a lot of butting heads.

The NFL sack leader of 2009, Elvis Dumervil, who is out this season due to an injury, will be attempting to make his comeback into the starting lineup.

A big thing for the producers to focus on will be the competition at quarterback. While previous team’s featured had their starting quarterback in-tact Denver will have three guys competing for the spot. There is Kyle Orton, the incumbent starter, Brady Quinn, the former first-rounder the Broncos traded for but who has failed to live up to expectations, and Tim Tebow, arguably the most successful quarterback in the history of college football who the Broncos have big plans for. Who comes out on top? Who will be the number two? Will any of them get moved?

Minnesota Vikings

Will Brett Favre play another season or will he finally, actually retire? If he does leave, will Tavaris Jackson be ready to take over, or does the team once again look elsewhere for a new starting quarterback?

They also have Adrian Peterson, one of the most electric running backs in the NFL but who also has to overcome a fumbling problem.

Jared Allen could also prove to be a big-time character, much like Chad Ochocinco or Terrell Owens was in their respective seasons. He is routinely featured on ESPN’s lighthearted pieces, and while he still is a character in the locker room, he’s changing his image off the field to a family man, hence the shaving of his mullet.

New Orleans Saints

Depending on how the season plays out, a number of storylines could come out of what the Saints did on the field in 2010. They can be the two-time defending Super Bowl champions, fall just short of winning a second title and be working to get back over the hump, or they could follow the recent trend of Super Bowl participants that don’t even make the playoffs and are extremely humbled.

Whichever way the season goes, there are plenty of characters and rich storylines. There is Drew Brees, the star quarterback who has no fear of being in the spotlight. There is running back Reggie Bush, who has been in the middle of quite a bit of controversy involving his college eligibility and how he tries to resurrect his character. There is also head coach Sean Payton, who is an aggressive play caller in what is a conservative NFL.

There is the background story of the local area still picking itself up from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill, as well as how the Saints play an enormous role in the community.

Plus, after the won the Super Bowl everyone in the organization showed that they enjoy the extra attention.

San Francisco 49ers

This is a team full of former first-round draft picks: Alex Smith, David Carr, Michael Crabtree, Ted Ginn Jr., Vernon Davis, Mike Iupati, Anthony Davis, Patrick Willis, Joe Staley, Nate Clements, and Manny Lawson to name (more than) a few.

They’ve accumulated all this talent, plus Frank Gore who is one of the best running backs in the league, but haven’t made any real strides in the standings. Every year is supposed to be “the year” but they fall short.

What needs to happen for them to finally fully turn the corner?

They have a coach who takes a no-nonsense approach to football, but who also has had his share of comedic press conferences.

And with every loss the team gets more and more disenfranchised with Smith. Will Carr get a second chance at starting in the NFL? Will recently acquired Troy Smith, a former Heisman trophy winner, finally get his first chance to start?

With another draft and offseason it could be a rookie or big offseason pickup, as well.

Washington Redskins

Owner Daniel Snyder has extremely deep pockets. Like Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, he is a personality that likes to be seen and talked about. Jones got the Cowboys on Hard Knocks, would Snyder want to follow suit to get more exposure for his team?

After 11 seasons as rival Philadelphia Eagles’ starting quarterback, Donovan McNabb is the new Redskins quarterback. However, he is not the long term answer. Will the Redskins be grooming a young arm behind him?

Albert Haynesworth is a big guy with an even bigger contract. He also is unhappy and unfit, failing a conditioning test multiple times early in the preseason. Still, McNabb says the team can’t win without him. If the Redskins don’t move him by next year’s training camp, this would be a huge storyline to follow.

Also, head coach Mike Shanahan is a high-profile coach with two Super Bowl rings on his hand. He is an old-school style coach who will work to bring this squad of high-priced players together. Certainly an interesting dynamic. How does he work with his players? How does he interact with Snyder?

The bigger question here is would he be willing to be a part of the all-access “Hard Knocks” is all about? It might be a reason for a Shanahan-Snyder argument.

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