Top storylines to follow on Hard Knocks 2020

This season, both teams from Los Angeles will be featured on Hard Knocks. PFN's Lead NFL writer Cole Thompson breaks down the top storylines to follow.

There are still a lot of questions on how the 2020 NFL season will unfold. However, at least there will be entertainment back on screens come August surrounding training camp. NFL Films and HBO have agreed to bring back the show “Hard Knocks” for the 15th season, and this time Hard Knocks 2020 is featuring two teams — both the Los Angeles Rams and Los Angeles Chargers.

And with a new season of Hard Knocks ahead, there will be plenty of storylines to follow. In fact, there are plenty of questions that need to be answered around the league before a whistle is even blown.

How will training camp schedules be handled? What guidelines will be in place with 90-man rosters taking the field for the month? How will Ezekiel Elliott and several other players from the Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans testing positive for COVID-19 affect the timetable?

Both teams from Los Angeles will begin a new chapter with their shared move into SoFi Stadium. The Chargers will start life without Philip Rivers for the first time since 2004 – how will that affect their passing game? The Rams, meanwhile, will roll out a new roster just two years removed from representing the NFC in Super Bowl LIII. With Wade Phillips and several vital pieces gone, can Sean McVay still create similar magic?

Hard Knocks will return on August 11. Last season was a letdown with the then-Oakland Raiders despite the drama surrounding Antonio Brown. However, both the Rams and Chargers have a cast of characters that should create interesting storylines to follow.  Here are the top moments fans should be hoping to see from both training camps.

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Top storylines to follow in Hard Knocks 2020

A Colin Kaepernick return 

Recently, Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn was asked about Colin Kaepernick’s fit in the team’s system. Lynn said that while the team has yet to speak to the former 49ers quarterback, NFL teams “would be crazy” not to bring him in for a workout. 

“I haven’t spoken with Colin, not sure where he’s at as far as in his career, what he wants to do,” Lynn said, according to ESPN’s Lindsey Thiry. “But Colin definitely fits the style of quarterback for the system that we’re going to be running. I’m very confident and happy with the three quarterbacks that I have, but you can never have too many people waiting on the runway.”

Kaepernick, 32, hasn’t taken a snap in the league since 2016. Outside of a private workout last November, there’s been minimal conversations of any team even considering him as an option. However, with recent developments, including Roger Goodell’s statement released two weeks ago, could the former NFC gunslinger finally capture his seemingly elusive opportunity to sign with an NFL team? 

Lynn has yet to close the door on Kaepernick, who could potentially work out for them over the summer. While the Chargers drafted Oregon’s Justin Herbert sixth overall, he could be viewed as a long-term investment rather than Week 1 starter. 

With Hard Knocks in town and a perfect fit for Lynn’s system, Kaepernick’s best chance could be with the Chargers. If that’s the case, expect all eyes to be on the “other” team from Los Angeles during Hard Knocks 2020. 

Tyrod Taylor’s progression 

Perhaps the only reason Kaepernick would garner a workout from Los Angeles would be if Taylor isn’t the guy. Herbert will eventually take over and have his chance to shine, but after leading the Buffalo Bills to their first postseason appearance in 18 years, Lynn is going to give his former quarterback in Buffalo a chance. 

Taylor, 30, has already been through the Hard Knocks life with a rookie quarterback before. In 2018, the focus was on Baker Mayfield while the newly signed Browns’ starter led the charge heading into Week 1 of the regular season. Three games later, Mayfield mania kicked in, and Taylor was back to his journeyman role.

When given a chance to start, Taylor has made the most of his time. In three years with the Bills, the veteran finished with a 22-20 record, completing 62.6% of his passes for 8,857 yards and 51 touchdowns. Working with Lynn in 2016, a smooth transition from backup to starter should be expected out of the gate. 

Any struggle or setback from Taylor could push Herbert into the starting role. Should the rookie thrive, this could create a legitimate quarterback battle heading into the regular season. And if Herbert wins the position, will there be another chance for Taylor to prove he’s still a viable starter? 

Breaking down McVay’s brain 

Remember when Sean McVay was able to call out a play that was run five years ago? Now, imagine that on the sideline every week. 

The media and fans were stunned by the Rams’ coach memory of a specific moment from a game. With his brain on the stage for all to witness, it’ll be interesting to see if McVay brings up moments from past games he coached in, or perhaps recalls plays from the 1980s that he modifies to fit into his own style. 

Keeping up with McVay’s mind may be nearly impossible, yet fans will be able to see a little more into the magic of what makes it tick behind closed doors in Hard Knocks 2020. Does he sit at home on Friday nights, YouTubing plays from the 1980s? How many notebooks from his days as an assistant does he keep on his shelf? And does he look up a moment in the history of the great game before deciding to make an impromptu speech to the media? 

Hoping to learn more about the madness that is the NFL’s youngest coach has driven fans crazy over the years. With a more in-depth look at the 34-year-old’s life, perhaps fans will finally have that question answered. 

Rams salary cap concerns 

Some of the most significant moments from Hard Knocks involve early trades. Who could forget Vontae Davis being shipped out of Miami or Corey Coleman’s final argument with Hue Jackson before heading to Buffalo? With the salary cap-stricken Rams still looking to free up some space, trades could develop in front of our eyes. 

Les Snead already parted ways with Brandin Cooks and Todd Gurley this offseason. The Houston Texans took on the speedy wideout while Gurley was forced to be released as the team couldn’t find a trading partner. Entering the month of July, the Rams currently have $5.3 million in cap space, ranking 30th among all rosters. 

Any progression from young talent on the Rams roster should have Snead calling around seeking to trade his expensive veterans. The team drafted Bobby Evans as the future right tackle, putting Rob Havenstein on notice should the former Sooner improve. Tyler Higbee, who signed a four-year extension, could be sent packing should Gerald Everett and rookie Brycen Hopkins grow at the tight end position. Plus, the team could save $1.3 million if they agreed to part ways with Malcolm Brown in favor of rookie Cam Akers. 

The Rams traded a pair of first-round picks for All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey last season, meaning he’s likely getting an extension. They have to find a way to pay him soon before his price rises throughout the season. Already a new roster, don’t be shocked to see several veterans either receive a phone call that they’ve been traded or a pink slip to clean out their locker. 

Prepping around a pandemic 

McVay perhaps answered what everyone thought when asked about social distancing in football come 2020. 

“We’re gonna social distance, but we play football?” McVay told reporters Thursday following the announcement. “It’s really hard for me to understand all this. I don’t get it.” 

According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the NFL season might be in jeopardy nearing the winter months if teams do not follow the NBA method of playing in a “bubble” structure. Despite trying to plan for the chance to have fans and media in the crowds come kickoff, there’s still no guarantee that the league will be able to make that dream a reality. 

Hard Knocks could be a first look at what direction the NFL heads amidst the current pandemic. The Chargers and Rams could be guinea pigs to determine how practices are run, team meetings are held, and travel plans are adjusted. Also, testing is expected to happen every three days – thus giving us a look at how teams react to a player’s positive test result. 

Both Lynn and McVay are smart, so they should be best prepared for the inevitable. With a camera crew in the mix, unless editing plays a vital role in keeping secrets hidden, fans should get a front-row seat to how the NFL plans to execute a season amongst the craziest offseason this century. 

Cole Thompson is the lead NFL writer for Pro Football Network. Follow him on Twitter at @MrColeThompson and @PFN365 for all up to date NFL content.

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