We learned Tuesday what had been suspected for months: The Oakland Raiders will be the subject of the newest season of "Hard Knocks" this summer on HBO. Six takeaways on the announcement …
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1) The Raiders were the best choice of the five "Hard Knocks" eligible teams. The Raiders, along with the Redskins, Lions, 49ers and Giants were the five teams that could be selected for "Hard Knocks" without their consent. The Silver and Black offer the most potential for entertaining TV. "If they were smart, they would go to Oakland," Redskins coach Jay Gruden said last month. "What an entertainment value that would be: Antonio Brown, Jon Gruden, Paul Guenther, Vontaze Burfict, [Richie] Incognito. You’d be crazy not to go to Oakland. You can do us next year." The younger Gruden was obviously tweaking big brother through the media, but he ain’t wrong. Speaking of which …
2) Jon Gruden and "Hard Knocks" were made for each other. It’s fair to say most people who follow the sport have viewed Gruden’s return to coaching with suspicion after a decade in the broadcast booth. Had he been gone too long? Could he adapt to the modern game? Was he given too much power? There wasn’t much to take out of his first year in charge, as Gruden stripped the Raiders down to spare parts, but 2019 will be a true indicator of whether the coach has a once-proud organization on the right track. Gruden’s trademark intensity will be catnip for "Hard Knocks" cameras, who will undoubtedly make him the center of attention in the same way Rex Ryan stole the show during the Jets’ 2010 star turn — still the docuseries’ high-water mark. One thing you won’t see: An internal power struggle like we witnessed last year between then-Browns coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley. This is Gruden’s show all the way.
3) QB1, please step under the microscope. Are Gruden and Derek Carr built to last? Last season, the pair had a few heated sideline exchanges caught on camera over the course of a lost season, but both sides insist their relationship is solid. The Raiders seemingly flirted with the idea of replacing Carr in the offseason, working out Kyler Murray before the draft and publicizing it on the team’s social media. But the Raiders stuck with their guy, and Carr will enter 2019 as the unquestioned starter. "Hard Knocks" should give us an inside look at the relationship between Carr and Gruden, long known to be a chronic QB needler. Add some late-summer heat and things could get spicy.
4) Hello there, Antonio Brown. The Raiders upgraded their offense in a huge way when they traded for Brown, one of the most productive wide receivers in the history of the sport. Brown is a stud, but he’s also an unpredictable guy who apparently changed as a person as he ascended from complementary player to superstar playmaker. "Hard Knocks" will angle to spend time with Brown, starting with his always ostentatious camp arrival. How long before we get our first summer practice skirmish between Brown and Burfict, the former Bengals linebacker who concussed Brown in a playoff game (a hit that led to a suspension for Burfict) a few years back? Let’s set the over under at 1.5 episodes in. Yes, I’m sticking to that even though they’ve both shot down talk of lingering beef.
5) Richie Incognito gets his opportunity. Well, two actually. The Raiders signed Incognito to a one-year deal last month, giving the veteran guard a shot at jumpstarting his career after a year out of the game. For Incognito, it also presents the opportunity to engage in some image rehab. Incognito is probably best known as the face of the Dolphins’ ugly bullying scandal in 2013, and there were multiple signs of trouble during his year out of football. In May 2018, he was taken into custody for psychiatric evaluation after an altercation at a Florida gym. He pleaded guilty in April to disorderly conduct charges stemming from two separate August 2018 incidents, per ESPN. "Hard Knocks" will want to dig into his story. We’ll find out how interested Incognito is in having it told.
6) The Move. You may have heard that the Raiders are relocating to Vegas in the next year or so. It will be interesting to see how thoroughly "Hard Knocks" hits this angle. Personally, I’d prefer we don’t get the obligatory segment where front office officials travel to Vegas to check in on the progress of new stadium construction — but this feels like something the Raiders will want to promote. I’d much rather "Hard Knocks" focus on the loyal Bay Area fans who have stuck with a team they know is leaving them. That’s a special kind of loyalty no fan should have to deal with.
The 14th season of "Hard Knocks" will premiere this summer on HBO. Dan Hanzus will recap every episode on NFL.com.
Follow Dan Hanzus on Twitter @danhanzus. Listen to Dan on the Around The NFL Podcast, which he hosts three times a week.
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