TAMPA — Roberto gets cut.
That was the big story line heading into the second episode of HBO's Hard Knocks, the behind-the-scenes look at Bucs training camp. In fact, it was one of the most anticipated story lines Hard Knocks has had in years.
But it was a double-edge sword. On one hand, we as viewers already knew the stunning news: The Bucs had cut second-year kicker Roberto Aguayo, the former Florida State standout who will go down as one of the biggest draft busts in franchise history. That had everyone tuning in to Tuesday night's episode.
Then again, Hard Knocks had to deliver the goods. Would the story still be interesting even though we already knew how it ended?
Hard Knocks didn't disappoint. The Aguayo story was the highlight of the second episode, which was much better than the first. The show was quickly paced, well filmed and expertly edited. We were introduced to cool off-the-field personalities and stories, and reintroduced to familiar characters. Yet even that was fresh because we got to see, for instance, which superhero is the favorite of defensive tackle Gerald McCoy.
All in all, it was a strong effort by Hard Knocks, especially for the story everyone tuned in to see.
The Aguayo story was deftly directed and told. The show set up the competition between Aguayo and veteran Nick Folk early in the show by showing the two kick it out against each other in practice. Then it dramatically laid out Aguayo's failures (a missed field goal and an extra point) against the Bengals in Friday's preseason opener. While shots of coach Dirk Koetter on the sideline after Aguayo's missed kicks didn't reveal exactly what he was thinking, it was smart for Hard Knocks to zero in on the coach. Because we, the viewers, already knew Aguayo was going to be cut, it allowed us to imagine what was going through Koetter's head, knowing full well he had had enough of the kicker.
What the show revealed, thanks to a conversation between general manager Jason Licht and Koetter the next day, is Licht wanted to release Aguayo after the game but decided to sleep on it. That conversation between Licht and Koetter was frank and must-see TV as they decided they simply couldn't trust Aguayo any longer.
Then came the part everyone was waiting for: the meeting between Aguayo, Koetter and Licht when the kicker learned he was released. Before it aired, I have to be honest, I thought it was going to be anticlimactic. And I was sure all parties would behave as if they were fully aware that cameras were spying on the conversation.
I was wrong on both counts.
While there were no tears or raised voices, the scene was absolutely dramatic. It was hard to watch, but as a viewer, you couldn't look away. Everyone was classy, especially Aguayo, who handled the news gracefully.
In the heartbreaking moment of the scene, Aguayo said, "I let you guys down. I let myself down."
How could you not feel for the kid?
At no point did you ever get the sense that the three were playing to the cameras or that they were even aware of the cameras in the room. It felt like an honest conversation that would have played out no differently than if it went no further than the three of them.
All in all, it was must-see TV, the kind of thing that Hard Knocks is known for and the kind of thing that makes the series so good.
We didn't get much of it in Week 1. We got plenty in Week 2: Koetter dropping a few big-time curse words to get his team fired up during a lackadaisical practice. That's the Dirk we've been waiting for.
Receivers DeSean Jackson and Mike Evans debating LeBron James. Evans is pro-LeBron. DeSean? He thinks LeBron is a freak of nature, but he had to go somewhere to win a championship. But Evans had a great comeback: "That's what you about to do."
You can tell by watching them interact that there is a special chemistry already between teammates Evans and Jackson.
How about cornerback Robert McClain and his excellent artwork? The guy can turn a pair shoes into masterpieces with just a Magic Marker. The guy has a career waiting after football, no doubt.
Best trash talk
With a teammate like defensive lineman Chris Baker, who needs an opponent? The guy was absolutely ruthless giving it to Folk and Roberto Aguayo in a practice when both kickers struggled.
"What did I tell you?" he yelled after a missed kick.
Funny stuff. Well, guessing Aguayo didn't think it was too funny.
Again, there should no longer be any question about what kind of leader Jameis Winston is. In everything the quarterback does with teammates, he oozes leadership, and you can see just how much his teammates respect him.
Most disturbing segment
The team brought in veteran NFL referee Ed Hochuli to go over rules, especially the ones the Bucs really hope they have to pay attention to this season: end zone celebrations. Hochuli warned the Bucs. Nothing too sexual. Nothing too violent.
So defensive tackle Gerald McCoy tried to see just where that line was by twerking for Hochuli. "Too much?" he asked.
I don't know if it was enough to get a penalty, but I'm positive I don't need to see that again.
Best special guest
Some might be offended by her language, but you have to admit that Miko Grimes, wife of cornerback Brent Grimes, is incredibly charismatic. She gives zero flips.
She was on just for a few moments but enough that viewers can only hope she will make more appearances in the future. And you have to love her football acumen. She doesn't care if Brent gives up little short passes. She only cares that he doesn't get burned on game-changing plays. Spoken just like someone with a smart football mind.
And, oh, she can get a job with NFL Films if needed. She has excellent cellphone footage of the play when Brent suffered a nasty laceration during practice.
Best of all, you can see just how close her and Brent are. Again, this is another strength of Hard Knocks, allowing viewers a peek at what players really are like at home
Did you know McCoy has a lifesized Batman in his house? Seriously. He's a superhero freak. Especially for Batman.
"I want to get punched by a superhero. Hard," McCoy said. "I want to experience that. Not really."
Riley Bullough, a free agent linebacker, was featured again in the second episode, as he was in the first. He's a trash-talking, hair-on-fire, ball-of-energy player that the Hard Knocks cameras gravitate toward.
Anyway, because of his long and stringy blond hair, he earned the nickname "Joe Dirt" because he looks like the David Spade movie character with the mullet.
But don't tell that to Riley's mom. She thinks he looks more like Fabio. Moms.
Another Hard Knocks staple is game footage.
We can watch all the football games we like on television, but nothing takes us inside the game like NFL Films footage. While us mortals will never truly know what it's like to play in the league, shows such as Hard Knocks give us a little taste of what it's like when we hear the violent sounds, see the frenzied pace and eavesdrop on all the conversation that we hear with players wearing microphones. We finally got that sense with game action between the Bucs and Bengals. More to come in the upcoming weeks.
Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is wily veteran. He told Winston where to find hot dogs at halftime. But, he warned, don't do a "Sanchez," alluding to the time former Jets QB Mark Sanchez ate a hot dog on the sideline. Hmm, we always thought that when someone said don't do a Sanchez, it meant don't run into your own lineman's butt and fumble the ball. Maybe "Sanchez" is a homonym.