As soon as I heard the sweet vibrations of Liev Schreiber’s deep tenor, I rejoiced, as another season of HBO’s “Hard Knocks” was upon us. This time: Training camp with the 2018 Cleveland Browns.

This season opened up with a massive LeBron James banner being torn from the side of a building in downtown Cleveland, a metaphor for rebirth and renewal in Northern Ohio that apparently, um, has to do with the Browns as opposed to the Cavaliers.

That rebirth is led by Baker Mayfield, who the cameras followed as he landed in Cleveland, signed his contract, and proceeded to spend a chunk of said contract on a (rather luxurious) RV for exclusive quarterback use.

Baker was painted in the media as somewhat of a Johnny Manziel 2.0 while he was at Oklahoma, but if this first glimpse of him in Cleveland is any indication, he seems like a pretty down-to-Earth dude, or at least no worse than any frat bro that you tolerated sitting next to in your Intro to Economics class in college. He stops to take a picture with a fan in the airport, laughs on fans chanting his name at practice, and sings “Take Me Home, Country Roads” in front of his teammates at a meeting.

But you can tell that his head coach, Hue Jackson, isn’t quite sure how to bring him along quite yet. Usually, with a first overall pick (especially at quarterback), that’s a guy you can leave to his own devices and watch them flourish. But Baker is a different guy, he’s not the Andrew Luck-type prodigy — he’s an undersized college walk-on with an arrest on his record who’s known for jackin’ it on the sideline.

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In other words, you might need to keep an eye on him more than someone like Myles Garrett, last year’s number one pick. Jackson tells him to follow starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor’s example, being the first-in last-out type of leader.

It’s Jackson, eventually, that becomes the star of the first episode. I frequently give the Browns a hard time for keeping Jackson after a 1-31 record in his first two years on the job, but there’s no question he earned a lot of respect not just from my very insignificant self, but the nation-wide audience. Jackson lost his brother about two weeks before camp, and he ends up losing his mother as well a few days in. It’s something you read about and think “if this happened to me I would be in the fetal position for a year,” and meanwhile he’s out doing one of the hardest jobs in sports the whole time.

He’s a human being, but he very nearly makes that the second priority behind being a head coach. Near the end of the episode, a few front office guys including GM John Dorsey give him a hug in his office and encourage him to let out his emotions. As they shuffle out of the office, Jackson is sitting at his desk in tears, telling himself to “keep going.” Smash cut to one hour later, and he’s on the field barking out orders to his swath of players. It gives you an idea just how difficult it is to balance a personal and professional life in the NFL.

The episode concludes with an intrasquad scrimmage in front of the fans. Mayfield lofts a few nice passes to grab some attention as opposed to his crotch, but Jarvis Landry ends up stealing the show with a one-handed catch to finish up the session. Everyone reacts like it’s the greatest thing they’ve seen in two years, and that’s because it’s probably true.

Stray Thoughts

  1. Carl Nassib, we get it dude, you were a finance major.
  2. Interests Outside of Football Alert: Christian Kirksey plays the drums.
  3. Gregg Williams is still an asshole and he probably is wondering why no team will keep him longer than a couple years.
  4. Fourth-string quarterback Brogan Roback has a name like he’s the captain of the crew team at every single Ivy League school, all at the same time.
  5. Baker Mayfield gettin’ the ole mobile plumbing tutorial was really something.
  6. The Browns’ new slogan is “Welcome to the Hardland of America” as if the Hardland of America isn’t already copyrighted by Viagra.
  7. The “earn your stripes” mantra is like taking one of the douchiest parts of New York Yankees culture and looking at it through shit-colored glasses.
  8. Gregg Williams’ raspy voice reminded me of a coach in high school who once asked, “what does a man with a big dick eat for breakfast” before answering his own question: “well, this morning I had steak and eggs.”
  9. People were hyping up Jarvis Landry’s speech as one of the show’s all-time moments. It doesn’t hold a candle to Rex Ryan’s “Goddamn Snack” speech or Antonio Cromartie naming all of his kids.
  10. Carl Nassib would projectile vomit if he found out how much time I spend on Reddit.
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