The day is finally here. It’s time for the “Hard Knocks” crew to show its work.
The longtime NFL Films production will debut Tuesday night on HBO, turning roughly 350 hours of footage into a roughly 60-minute show on the start of Raiders training camp in Napa.
Camera crews and producers pride themselves on being flies on a wall, but they aren’t that invisible. Boom mic operators follow prominent Raiders figures everywhere, so often, in fact, that head coach Jon Gruden dreamt one came into his room last week.
Crews have certain scenes set up well for TV filmed after practice, where it’s easy catching families and position groups gathering for unfiltered chats.
NFL Films has more than 100 feature topics researched heading into Raiders training camp in Napa, but editors had to wait until last week to see which storylines developed into usable segments during early portions of training camp.
HBO isn’t giving out advance copies of what made Tuesday’s show, but here are some topics seemingly destined for air in the season premier.
Antonio Brown’s feet
NFL Films spent time with the Raiders’ biggest star and his family before training camp, surely followed his hot-air balloon flight to Napa and subsequent trip to the non-football injury list. He has come off of NFI but barely practiced due to foot issues that, per his Instagram Stories posts, look like he spent a week in the jungle with one pair of socks.
He saw a specialist Saturday and has struggled to reach the field, so the show will document that saga in detail.
Cliff Branch’s passing
The Raiders organization was rocked by news that former receiver and team ambassador Cliff Branch died at 71 years old. His passing was unexpected, and has left coaches an and owner Mark Davis reeling from his loss.
It’s something that came late in the week, but it’s a major factor NFL Films must address. Gruden showed his team film of Branch shortly after he died, which would be a great visual to show how much he meant to the franchise.
Derek Carr’s prove-it year
Cameras have been glued to the Raiders quarterback and his family since filming the show. His family background, interactions his oldest brother, former NFL quarterback and current NFL Network analyst David Carr, will be on display.
Expectations are sky-high for the quarterback entering his second season under Jon Gruden, and he should be a featured player throughout the five-episode run.
Abram’s first impression
Veterans normally tiptoe around complimenting highly-touted rookies this time of year. They don’t want egos running rampant before a real game is played. That hasn’t been the case with No. 27 overall NFL draft pick Johnathan Abram.
Praise has come fast and furious for someone jumping into the NFL experience with both feet. He’s talking trash, hitting hard and hounding Jon Gruden at all hours. He also has a young family that will play well on TV. So will his quick bonds formed with Lamarcus Joyner and requested roommate Karl Joseph.
Jon Gruden’s practice demeanor
The Raiders head coach is an excellent sound byte, a knack developed after years as a television analyst. He’s incredibly colorful talking to players on the practice field, using language and passion reporters on hand typically don’t repeat. NFL Films won’t have that problem. He’ll be as animated as you’d expect, and he’ll be a centerpiece of the first episode and the other four after that.
-- Richie Incognito brought a hyperbaric chamber to camp. NFL Films was set to shoot him using that. They could also focus on his first press conference since being suspended two games, where he was honest and contrite and spoke candidly about his struggles with mental health.
-- The punter position battle has been getting lots of focus in the first week, with HBO crews all over scrums for A.J. Cole and Johnny Townsend. That might be something the show follows from start to finish.
-- Brentson Buckner is a character and a great quote, and his efforts transforming a unit that had just 13 sacks last year should be fun to see.
-- It might be too late for episode No. 1, but the Raiders just had a topping off ceremony for the team’s new Las Vegas stadium reaching its maximum height. It was also formally named allegiant Stadium and Davis gave a speech, so it could represent the team’s transition away from the Bay Area in the season premiere.