Tuesday night's second installment of Hard Knocks, the HBO show that is going behind the scenes at training camp with the Bucs, had plenty of interesting tidbits, revelations and insights.
But two things stood out. One was the awkward, yet compelling story line of kicker Roberto Aguayo getting cut. The other was the leadership — good and bad — of quarterback Jameis Winston.
Let's start with the Aguayo drama. It was one of the most anticipated narratives Hard Knocks has had in years.
But it was a double-edged sword. On one hand, we already knew the stunning news: On Saturday the Bucs cut Aguayo, the second-year Florida State kicker who will go down as one of the biggest draft busts in franchise history. That had everyone tuning in.
On the other hand, Hard Knocks had to deliver the goods. Would the story still be interesting?
The show set up the competition between Aguayo and Nick Folk early in the episode by showing the two kick it out in practice. Then it dramatically laid out Aguayo's failures against the Bengals in Friday's preseason opener : a missed field goal and extra point. Though shots of coach Dirk Koetter after Aguayo's misses didn't reveal exactly what he was thinking, the closeups were smart. Because we knew Aguayo was going to be cut, it allowed us to imagine what was going through Koetter's head, knowing he had had enough of Aguayo.
What the show revealed, thanks to a conversation between general manager Jason Licht and Koetter the next day, was that Licht wanted to release Aguayo after the game Friday but decided to sleep on it. That conversation was frank and must-see TV as the two decided that they simply couldn't trust Aguayo. Licht was brutally honest, saying Aguayo could make 20 in a row at practice and he still wasn't confident Aguayo could make an extra point in a game.
Then came the part everyone was waiting for: the meeting among Aguayo, Koetter and Licht. I have to be honest. I thought it was going to be anticlimactic, expecting all parties to behave as if they were fully aware that cameras were spying on the conversation.
I was wrong on both counts.
There were no tears or raised voices, and the scene was still dramatic. It was hard to watch, but as a viewer, you couldn't look away. Everyone was classy, especially Aguayo.
In the heartbreaking moment, Aguayo said, "I let you guys down. I let myself down."
How could you not feel for the kid?
All in all, it was must-see TV, the kind of thing that makes Hard Knocks so good.
Now, to Winston.
It's clear the quarterback oozes leadership. Seeing how his teammates react to him, there's no question that he has their immense respect and that they will follow him anywhere. Respect like that isn't demanded. It is earned over time and experiences.
Winston walked through the locker room before Friday's game, giving fist bumps to teammates and telling them, "I have your back.'' Those were not hollow words or cool things to say just to get people fired up. I truly believe Winston does have their backs.
Some guys just have that leadership chip, and some guys just don't. Winston has it.
Yet, there was a moment near the end of the episode when Winston's leadership veered offtrack. He scolded a pair of backup offensive linemen — Jarvis Harrison and James Stone — for laughing on the bench while backup quarterback Ryan Griffin was in the locker room with a shoulder injury.
"I'm happy you all are having fun, but Ryan just hurt his shoulder,'' Winston said. "So keep having fun.''
First, guys get hurt in games all the time. It's part of football. If we start cracking down on smiles and laughs on the sideline out of respect for anyone who gets hurt, players would never smile and laugh again.
Furthermore, it's improbable that Harrison and Stone were aware of Griffin's condition. Calling them out felt unnecessary. You also wonder if Winston would have said the same thing to veterans Ali Marpet and Donovan Smith instead of two guys unlikely to make the team. It felt a little like it was for show, like the time Rays pitcher Chris Archer called out rookies Blake Snell and Jacob Faria for not getting to the ballpark early enough during spring training.
Winston's leadership isn't questioned, so there was no need to exert it unnecessarily.
Nevertheless, the Aguayo story and Winston's leadership style made for great theatre and a solid Hard Knocks show. The best part for us? There are three more episodes to go.
Contact Tom Jones at [email protected] Follow @tomwjones