Has Hard Knocks knocked itself out? As the show winds down its seventh (or eighth, if you include the one non-HBO produced series with Jacksonville) it appears that it is falling into the pattern of any aging series. Characters are predictable (even with the difference in teams) and the story lines just don’t hit the way they used to. So the question to be asked, as Hard Knocks reaches its “climax” for 2012 (the final episode airs tonight: is the show flagging, or were the Miami Dolphins just an extremely uninspired choice of content?
No one can doubt the artistic elements of the show. The access to players and coaches through a variety of cameras is excellent, and the action of practice and games is NFL Films at its best, with every blade of grass stuck to a facemask or bead of sweat visible through the grueling Miami summer heat.
The problem the show has is that every NFL training camp is essentially the same, the logos and colors simply change year-to-year. Hard Knocks seems to have a few key elements of camp down:
1. The hot rookie (Dwayne Bowe, Felix Jones, Ryan Tannehill)
2. The position battle (The Bengals safeties in 2009, the Jets fullbacks in 2010, Dolphins quarterbacks this year)
3. The long-shot free agent (Todd Lowber, Bobby Sippio, Danny Woodhead, Les Brown)
4. The discipline case (Pacman Jones, The entire Bengals team, Chad Johnson)
Add in a splash of the ridiculous, ranging from the trivial (Ryan Tannehill’s inability to name the NFL’s divisions and their participants) to the tragic (Antonio Cromartie’s misadventures in fatherhood) and you have yourself a show. Unfortunately, that formula is utterly detectable, and by the seventh time around, you don’t necessarily have an interesting show.
Therein lies the issue for this year’s Miami Dolphins. They simply aren’t that interesting. The Dolphins finished last year with a record of 6-10, and with their level of talent, they will be hard pressed to match that win total. Their most recognizable player is easily Reggie Bush, which is not a good thing, even if Bush finally did look like a bona fide star towards the end of last season.
Miami didn’t even have the front office stars to display from seasons past. Jerry Jones dominated hard knocks twice with his massive ego and love for the camera. Rex Ryan could have written his own personal phrase book after the Jets 2010 appearance. The Dolphins answer to these two issues was Joe Philbin and Jeff Ireland. Philbin seems like a decent man, one worth rooting for (especially after the tragic death of his son last season), but maybe the anti-Rex Ryan; a good coach to play for, but not a television star. Ireland simply has no personality, and his leadership of the Dolphins smacks of a career football man unwilling to take chances. The career projection for both of these men is not good. Philbin has very few tools to work with and will struggle because of this. Ireland has given Philbin nothing to work with, and will likely go down with the ship.
So what we were left with was fairly bare bones. What did the show have to excite fans? Chad Johnson’s arrest and release? Maybe, but his release felt like an inevitability, as he didn’t fit with the team even before his legal trouble, and it was plain to see. The starting quarterback battle? Didn’t happen, as David Garrard got hurt and Tannehill was effectively handed the job over the affable Matt Moore (which seems like a terrible idea, seeing as how this team will be very bad and he has no weapons). The burgeoning bromance between rookies Jarrell Root and Chas Alecxih? Fun, but too brief, and everyone knew how it would end (both were cut). Vontae Davis pissing off the coaches and eventually being traded? Yaaaaaaaaaaaaawn.
Hard Knocks will be back next season, minus the Dolphins. Let’s hope they have a plan to refresh the show a little bit. Failing that, let’s hope for a more interesting cast.