Why the Bucs are ready for their 'Hard Knocks' closeup

Crew members from HBO's "Hard Knocks" film Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (93) during training camp at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa, Fla., on Saturday, Aug. 5, 2017. The upcoming season will debut Aug. 8. LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times 

Crew members from HBO's "Hard Knocks" film Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (93) during training camp at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa, Fla., on Saturday, Aug. 5, 2017. The upcoming season will debut Aug. 8. LOREN ELLIOTT | Times
Published Aug. 8, 2017

TAMPA — Here's a dirty little secret about HBO's Hard Knocks, the five-part behind-the-scenes look at a National Football League team during training camp:

Teams are not willing participants. Frankly, they would rather not do it.

Coaches and players in the clandestine world of the NFL don't want cameras and microphones meddling into every aspect of their business, shadowing their every step, recording their every word, some of it very R-rated, on and off the field.

But this year's subject — the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — has been a surprise.

"This team, more than any we've ever been around, accepted us with open arms,'' said Matt Dissinger, the show's director. "We've found the team's stars have been very accessible. They have been very charismatic and compelling. Not to say teams we've done in the past haven't been, but this one more than most.''

That means football fans should be in for a special treat Tuesday when this season's series debuts at 10 p.m.

Editing for the hour-long debut continues into Tuesday morning, and HBO never reveals what it will show. But, in an interview with the Times on the eve of the debut, Dissinger did give a sneak peek in what we might see.

Some of it is no surprise.

"We've been off the field with almost every marquee player on the team: Gerald (McCoy) and DeSean (Jackson) and Mike Evans,'' Dissinger said. "We've gotten to meet their families, their kids. That's probably show one right there.''

But there's also the unexpected. Every year, Hard Knocks introduces fans to people who aren't well known, maybe a rookie who is longshot to make the team, or a little-known coach who has a bigger-than-realized personality. We might see an example of that Tuesday night.

"There's a guy Mark Duffner, the linebackers coach,'' Dissinger said. "That is someone we found to be interesting on the field, kind of very loud and commanding.''

And, of course, expected to see plenty of Bucs coach Dirk Koetter and quarterback Jameis Winston.

"I know we did something cool with Jameis' morning routine,'' Dissinger said. "He gets there very early in the morning. He comes to the facility when there's almost no players there. We document some of that.''

Of course they documented that. They document everything.

NFL Films has 32 crew members embeded with the team in Tampa. More than 120 production people will have a hand in the show. There are 20 cameras assigned to shoot camp, including six manned cameras and 14 robotic stationary cameras in the nooks and crannies of offices and meeting rooms.

For every one hour that makes to air, 350 hours are recorded, meaning the five-part series will be edited down from 1,750 hours of film.

The crew already has put in 17 days in what will ultimately be 46 consecutive days of work.

It didn't get off to a smooth start with heavy morning rains while the Bucs were on the practice field.

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"It's funny because we got here and expected it to be this crazy heat and humidity every day and I think we got rain in the first three out of four practices,'' Dissinger said.

Rain might look good on film, but working in it can be a nightmare.

"The first day I don't think we were super-prepared for it because the forecast called for like a 10 percent chance of rain,'' Dissinger said. "It's challenging.''

The most challenging?

"Protecting our equipment, which costs hundreds of thousands of dollars,'' Dissinger said. "But once we were prepared and ready and expecting it, it is kind of a quick transition. And our guys will power through just about everything.''

Then Dissinger said something that no one else at training camp would say:

"It was nice once the rain went a way and we welcomed these hotter Tampa summer days,'' he said. "It was hot, but at least we were dry.''

As far as the Bucs, they've had nothing but good things to say about HBO's crew, which manages to be everywhere without ever getting in the way.

"Seems good to me,'' Koetter said. "We'll find out Tuesday night.''

"We're trying to give them the information they want,'' Jackson said.

The transition from cautious to open has been smoother than HBO has seen in the 12 seasons it has been doing Hard Knocks.

"It was still a little bit of an adjustment because it's unusual to have cameras and wear wires all the time, but this team never batted an eye,'' Dissinger said. "I don't think we've had an issue with a single person. Everyone has seemed to embrace what we're trying to do here.''

That's good news for HBO and even better for football fans who will tune in Tuesday night.

Contact Tom Jones at Follow @tomwjones