Who’s ready to run through a wall for Dan Campbell? The first episode of HBO’s Hard Knocks premiered on Tuesday night, and the Detroit Lions head coach was featured early and often. Campbell’s incessant energy and unique brand of motivational techniques highlighted tonight’s episode, while viewers were also offered the behind-the-scenes training camp access that only Hard Knocks can offer.
Hard Knocks Episode 1 recap: Dan Campbell is a star
HBO executives knew what they were doing when they chose the Lions for this year’s edition of Hard Knocks. Campbell is arguably the most energetic and intense head coach in the NFL, and his consistent passion was on full display in the first episode of the season.
In the opening scene, Campbell addressed the entire Lions roster to set his expectations and deliver team rules.
“Don’t be late,” Campbell said. “Don’t be overweight, which you’ve already done a great job of. Don’t disrespect your teammates or this game. That’s your rules, okay? That covers it all.”
Detroit was among the most tenacious teams in the NFL in 2021, Campbell’s first year as the club’s head coach. The Lions’ 3-13 record belied the fact they were a tough out week after week and continued to play hard for Campbell throughout the season.
“We’ll play you anywhere,” Campbell told his players. “We’ll play you on grass. We’ll play you on turf. We’ll go to a f—— landfill. Doesn’t matter. Doesn’t matter if you have one a– cheek and three toes, I will beat your a–.”
Campbell is clearly well-respected by both the Lions players and the rest of the coaching staff. At one point in the episode, he and defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn completed 40 up-downs alongside the entire club, a feat Campbell wasn’t sure he could accomplish due to an injured wrist.
Campbell, who spent 11 years in the NFL as a tight end with the Giants, Cowboys, Lions, and Saints, later explained why he was forcing his team to put on pads so early in training camp.
“I had a couple of you look at me like, “What the f—? Why are we going live'” Campbell said. “I swear to God I’m not a lunatic. If I absolutely knew we could get to where we need to get without ever putting pads on, I’d do it, I swear to you.
“…The studies say you gotta get volume and you gotta get intensity before a season comes. You have to. If you don’t, I’m not getting you prepared…All I f—— think about is you guys and how I set you up for the best f—— possible advantage I can give you to have a season, I swear to you, man. I just need you to trust me. That’s all. Please.”
The Duce Staley/Aaron Glenn buddy cop movie we didn’t know we needed
The Lions’ coaching staff is comprised of a vast number of former NFL players, and the relationship between Glenn and assistant head coach/RBs Duce Staley provided some of the best entertainment of the episode.
The two best friends fought like an old married couple, playfully berating each other after the whistle blew. “I truly love him,” Staley said of Glenn. “But I want to f— him up between the lines, let me tell you straight up.”
Even after the Lions’ defense blew up a play in the passing game, Staley would not relent. “You stopped a screen? You stopped a screen?” he mockingly asked Glenn. “I’m happy for you!” After Glenn desperately asked for a holding penalty, Staley sportively got in his face again. “Now you’re a ref?!”
Staley (10 NFL seasons), Glenn (15), quarterbacks coach Mark Brunell (19), offensive line coach Hank Fraley (11), wide receivers coach Antwaan Randle El (nine), and linebackers coach Kelvin Sheppard (eight) are among the former players on staff. Campbell explained that coaches who played in the NFL are able to better relate to current players because they’ve been through the grind of a pro season.
Quick hits from Episode 1 of Hard Knocks
- Aidan Hutchinson, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, lit up the room with his rendition of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.” As is NFL tradition, Hutchinson was coaxed to reveal his signing bonus — $23 million — before he belted out one of MJ’s signature songs. His dance moves weren’t bad, either.
- Running back Jamaal Williams is nearly as intense as Campbell, and he isn’t used to losing after he spent the first four years of his career with the divisional rival Packers. “Think of that f—— record!” Williams told the team, referencing last year’s 3-13 mark. “That ain’t us!”
- Players and coaches alike were effusive in praising Campbell for his ability to let people be themselves. Sheppard, who joined the Lions as a linebackers coach in 2021, said he considered cutting his long hair when he became a coach. But Campbell told him “absolutely not,” preferring to allow Sheppard to present his true self.
- Offensive lineman Obinna Eze, a rookie undrafted free agent originally from Nigeria, explained to Hutchinson that he chose to attend Memphis because he didn’t have an understanding of powerhouse college football conferences and schools. Eze, who even now only has seven years of football under his belt, said he received offers from Alabama, Michigan, and other legendary programs. But he turned them down due to both his NCAA naivete and his connection with the Memphis staff.
- Following the first episode of Hard Knocks, a post-credits teaser for the in-season version of Hard Knocks featuring the Arizona Cardinals showed wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who is recovering from a torn MCL that ended his 2021 season, doing a step-up workout on a box.