Ten things to know about Bucs and 'Hard Knocks'
The Bucs have been officially announced as the featured team for this year's edition of HBO's Hard Knocks, which goes up close and personal with one NFL team each year in training camp for five weeks of behind-the-scenes drama. The first show is Aug. 8 at 10 p.m., and five episodes will wrap up the Tuesday before the Bucs' season opener, which is Sept. 5.
Here are 10 things to know about the show and what to expect in training camp:
• It's a major operation. HBO and NFL Films will have a 30-person crew around the team and will shoot more than 1,500 hours of footage, which is culled down to five 55-minute episodes -- they say it works out to about 350 hours of material for each hour of actual programming. Every practice has six cameras, as well as 10 players and coaches who are miked up for audio. So there's lots to work with, leading to a crisply edited show each week.
• It's not nearly the jinx you might think it is, like the cover of Sports Illustrated. HBO points out that six of the last seven teams featured on Hard Knocks have either equaled or improved on their win total from the year before. Four in the last eight years have made the playoffs -- the Bengals in 2009 and 2013, the Jets in 2010 and Texans in 2015.
• It has a good audience and has fared well critically as well. HBO says the show has averaged 3.9 million viewers per episode over the last three seasons -- not bad for a premium cable channel. It's still a small fraction of its potential audience -- HBO finished 2014 with 46 million subscribers in the United States and another 92 million internationally. Hard Knocks has picked up 14 Sports Emmy awards in its history -- last year's, which featured the Rams in their first season back in Los Angeles, has been nominated for four Sports Emmy awards, with winners to be announced next month.
• Bucs coaches are familiar with Hard Knocks. Dirk Koetter was the Falcons' offensive coordinator in 2014 when Atlanta was on the show, and defensive coordinator Mike Smith was featured prominently as the Falcons' head coach that year. Smith was also on the show in its first year, following the Ravens in 2001, and again with the Jaguars in 2004. Defensive line coach Jay Hayes has been on the show twice, with the Bengals in 2009 and 2013.
• Players have been on as well. Koetter talked to his team about the show Wednesday morning and said he asked players to raise their hands if they'd been on the show before, and about a dozen raised their hands. We've counted 10: Center Joe Hawley -- with his huge beard and propensity to get into fights -- was a star with the Falcons in 2014, and running back Jacquizz Rodgers, quarterback Sean Renfree, center James Stone and receivers Freddie Martino and Bernard Reedy were on that year as well. Linebacker Cameron Lynch was among the Rams' final cuts on the show last year. Kicker Nick Folk was on with the Cowboys in 2008 and Jets in 2010, defensive tackle Clinton McDonald was as a rookie in 2009, and defensive end Jacquies Smith was on with the Dolphins in 2012.
• The Bucs do have some say in what airs on the show -- the team is allowed to see each week's show before it airs and can object if there's content it doesn't want shown. Director Matt Dissinger said Wednesday that every effort is made not to compromise the team in terms of strategic disadvantages because the rest of the league is getting to see much more behind the scenes than they normally would. Jason Licht said after talking with Koetter and Smith about how it went in 2014, they're expecting a very professional product from NFL Films and a good trust between the two sides.
• One consistent storyline from season to season is being in the room when players find out if they've made the team or are among the final cuts. This is a difficult moment for coaches without the cameras there, but Koetter said they try to be transparent with players throughout the cutting process. "Unfortunately, that makes for great reality TV," Licht said. "Fans want to see that. It's like watching a fire or a car wreck. People don't want to see it, but they do."
• The show will go on the road with the Bucs for the first two weeks of the preseason -- that means a trip to Cincinnati, where coach Marvin Lewis has known Koetter nearly 40 years since they were together at Idaho State. Bucs assistant Jay Hayes spent 13 years with the Bengals and still has a brother, Jonathan, on their staff, so that could be another storyline. The Bucs expect to have two joint practices with the Jaguars in the second week of the preseason -- a year ago, Jacksonville's Dante Fowler (from Lakewood) was kicked out of a Bucs-Jags joint practice last year, which is totally a Hard Knocks arc if it happened again. The Bucs finish the preseason at home against the Browns and Redskins.
• HBO doesn't have full archives of past shows -- they only have the rights for a year, and then they go to NFL Films, which doesn't appear to do anything with the old shows. HBO still has snippets from shows on its website -- you can get a cameo by Koetter in this six-minute clip on Falcons receivers from 2014.
• We'll totally make the show part of our coverage. Ideally we're writing about stories before HBO puts them on air, but the show's unprecedented access is tough to keep up with. But local newspapers have done show summaries the same way you would "Game of Thrones" or other addictive shows that readers watch and talk about together -- expect quick posts on highlights and surprises from each episode. It'll be a big part of the Bucs' training camp and preseason for five weeks, and should help elevate the team's brand nationally, as well as that of young stars like Jameis Winston and Mike Evans.