Aaron Rodgers steals the show in first episode of ‘Hard Knocks’ with Jets
If the opening episode of “Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the New York Jets” was any indication, this season is shaping up to be the “Aaron Rodgers Show.”
In a 53-minute episode, viewers got 45 minutes of Aaron Rodgers … with a splash of Sauce Gardner.
Early indications are that “Hard Knocks” will serve as good brand repair for Rodgers after a chaotic, and sometimes confusing, offseason.
Rodgers’ wild offseason started with a four-day “darkness retreat” in February to contemplate his football-playing future with the Green Bay Packers. Two months later he was traded to the Jets, later claiming he didn’t “ghost” the Packers in the process.
Once a Jet, Rodgers’ adventurous offseason continued. Rodgers did a full public tour of New York events, from NHL and NBA playoff games to a Taylor Swift concert to the Tony Awards show. In June, Rodgers was the keynote speaker at a convention for psychedelics.
Now on “Hard Knocks,” Rodgers is very cognizant that he’s mic’d up and the fixation of NFL Films’ camera crews — “I’ll give you some good (expletive) today” Rodgers says as he makes his way to the practice field.
A Rodgers-to-Allen Lazard touchdown in practice results in the defense having to do pushups.
“This is great work. Offense and defense going back and forth. This is a heavyweight bout right here,” Jeff Ulbrich, Jets defensive coordinator, says in a meeting with defensive players afterward. “There is nowhere (for Rodgers) to go with this ball. I don’t give a (expletive) what goes down this year, we will always be in games, no matter what.
“This is across the (expletive) field on the back shoulder. I don’t know if there’s any human on Earth who can make that (expletive) throw. He’s our quarterback. He’s ours.”
‘LET’S GO EAT A SNACK!’18 most memorable ‘Hard Knocks’ moments
Here is more of what we learned during the first episode of “Hard Knocks: Training camp with the New York Jets”:
Liev Schreiber’s fourth wall break
Liev Schreiber has served as the narrator for all but one “Hard Knocks” season. The only exception is 2007, when actor and Kansas City Chiefs fan Paul Rudd did the voice-over work.
Schreiber has never attended a practice of a “Hard Knocks” team … until now.
And, Schreiber arrives in style, in a helicopter in the middle of a Jets practice.
“Full disclosure: I wanted to drive, but the producers thought a helicopter might be more dramatic,” Schreiber says, narrating his own entrance.
Rodgers and Schreiber hit it off (“The only thing I like about ‘Hard Knocks’ is the voice of God who narrates it,” Rodgers said).
“I’m glad you’re here, man. It’s awesome. You’ve made a lot of New Yorkers very happy,” Schreiber tells Rodgers.
Schreiber then picks Rodgers’ brain for answers to why teams are reluctant to participate in “Hard Knocks.” In July, Rodgers didn’t seem too happy about the idea of being on the HBO docuseries, saying “they forced it down our throat and we have to deal with it.”
Rodgers seems to have changed his tune.
“So tell me, how come nobody wants to do the show?” Schreiber asks.
“People are worried about it being a distraction. There’s a lot of misnomers about it. I’ve had a great experience,” Rodgers says.
Schreiber then admits that he’s “just ripping off John Facenda.”
For the youths out there, Facenda was NFL Films’ original “voice of God.”
Nathaniel Hackett, Aaron Rodgers and the Sean Payton comments
After a disappointing first season as a head coach with the Denver Broncos, Nathaniel Hackett is back in his more successful role as an offensive coordinator. Hackett and Rodgers have a shared history, as Hackett was the Packers’ offensive coordinator for three seasons (2019-2021); Rodgers earned NFL MVP honors during two of those seasons.
Their close bond gets examined on “Hard Knocks,” which also hits a major controversy that came up early in training camp. Its introduction comes as Jets quarterbacks and Hackett play the pylon game. The game has an added element that is an homage to the movie “BASEketball,” in which participants try to psych each other out by yelling random stuff while their opponent attempts a shot. Nothing is off limits.
Hackett tries to distract Rodgers by saying “naked clowns,” among other things.
Rodgers tries to distract Hackett by saying “Sean Payton.”
Payton, the new Denver head coach, made comments to USA TODAY Sports’ Jarrett Bell, saying his Broncos predecessor, Hackett, produced “one of the worst coaching jobs in the history of the NFL.” Hackett lasted just 15 games at the helm of the Broncos, going 4-11 for a team that finished last in its division. A rookie head coach paired with a veteran quarterback — Russell Wilson — resulted in an offense that scored the fewest points in the league last season.
Payton nearly immediately regretted being so blunt in his assessment of the 2022 Broncos season, but the words were heard loud and clear at Jets training camp. Rodgers was particularly salty, “I thought it was way out of line, inappropriate, and I think he needs to keep my coach’s name out of his mouth.”
Zach Wilson gets a reset
With the No. 2 overall selection in the 2021 NFL draft, the Jets selected BYU quarterback Zach Wilson. It was the second time in four years that the Jets used a top-three draft pick to take a quarterback (Sam Darnold went No. 3 in 2018), and Wilson was immediately thrown into the fire. He started 13 games as a rookie and another nine last season. It did not go well, as Wilson threw more interceptions than touchdowns (18 to 15) in 22 starts with a 70.9 QB rating.
“Obviously, the last two years have been tough. Just trying to find my way as a quarterback,” Wilson says. “Honestly, things started to feel like they were getting worse each week. Confidence was going down.”
Now, Wilson steps aside and assumes a backup role behind a future Hall of Famer.
“He’s embraced it. He’s all-in on trying to learn,” Jets head coach Robert Saleh says. “I feel like him showing up was successful because what he’s being asked to do is hard. To go from the potential face of the organization to ‘hey, just sit back for a bit and reset.’ That is not easy.”
More importantly, Rodgers appears to be embracing the role of mentor to Wilson.
Sauce Gardner and Garrett Wilson: Iron sharpens iron
One-on-one matchups between cornerback Sauce Gardner and wide receiver Garrett Wilson — two of the Jets’ three first-round draft picks in 2022 — are intense in a friendly competition sort of way (“I respect what he does. He respects what I do,” Wilson says).
The two hit the ground running last season. Gardner was defensive rookie of the year, first-team All-Pro and a Pro Bowler. Garrett was offensive rookie of the year and managed to have 1,103 yards receiving despite the Jets’ lackluster collection of quarterbacks. This season, Wilson could be in for a huge sophomore season with a future Hall of Famer throwing him passes, so set your fantasy football draft boards accordingly.
“Those two are going to make each other great,” Ulbrich says. Later in the show, Rodgers tells Gardner, “You could be here (in Canton) one day.”
Meet Chazz Surratt, roster long shot
It took a while during the premiere until the first 53-man regular-season roster long shot was introduced to the audience. Chazz Surratt was a third-round draft pick by the Minnesota Vikings in 2021. He played in nine games that season, was waived in August 2022 and was immediately signed by the Jets for the team’s practice squad. Surratt started his college career at North Carolina playing quarterback, but switched to linebacker for his junior season.
It is assured that “Hard Knocks” viewers will meet more of the Jets’ roster long shots in the episodes to come as hopes and dreams of playing in the NFL unfold during the month-long docuseries.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Hard Knocks Jets recap: Aaron Rodgers meets narrator Liev Schreiber