Dan Campbell is ready for his Hard Knocks close-up.
You have to go back to former Jets coach Rex Ryan to find another sideline man who so clearly profiled as the starring attraction of the acclaimed docuseries, which returns for its 17th season on Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET on HBO (it will also stream on HBO Max) with a study of the Detroit Lions. Back in the summer of 2010, Ryan's swagger, positivity and profound love of snacks helped make him a national star overnight.
Campbell has that kind of ceiling. If he were a Hard Knocks prospect, he'd be Trevor Lawrence coming out of Clemson. Can't miss.
Ryan and Campbell possess similarities. Like Ryan, Campbell takes the Hard Knocks stage in his second season with his team. Like Ryan, Campbell is trying to turn a long-suffering franchise into a consistent winner. And like Rex, Campbell seems to really enjoy talking into a microphone.
Which is good for all of us. Because, like Ryan, Campbell's good at it.
"This is the time to focus, continue to grow and develop, work on fundamentals," Campbell announces to the assembled media in the official Hard Knocks trailer released by HBO last week. "We've got to apply pressure. From this time last year, we're at a higher level. These guys are really competing. They're smart, they're relentless. These guys will be a terror in the league."
That's a quality parting line -- and I implore you to listen to him say it because transcription does it no justice. It's no "We're gonna bite a kneecap off" -- the notorious howler from Campbell's introductory press conference in January 2021 -- but hey, there are only so many masterpieces, and Campbell already has one hanging in The Louvre. There's so much to look forward to over the next five weeks, but learning more about the man behind the kneecaps (well, above them) tops the list.
Here's what else I'm looking forward to this season on Hard Knocks:
1) The kids
The Lions were not a good team in Campbell's first year on the sideline, but they earned rave reviews for their indomitable spirit. Of course, pluck only gets you so far in this league. The Lions needed more talent, and they got it in the 2022 NFL Draft. Enter Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson (selected second overall) and Alabama wide receiver Jameson Williams (taken 10 picks later). Hutchinson is a hometown kid who makes sense as a focal point. Williams is rehabbing following knee surgery, making his Hard Knocks presence less predictable.
2) The staff
The best Hard Knocks seasons always feature memorable personalities working under the head coach. The Lions staff has promise. Aaron Glenn (defensive coordinator), Duce Staley (assistant head coach/running backs), Mark Brunell (quarterbacks) and Antwaan Randle El (wide receivers) are all familiar names to fans weaned on pro football in the 1990s and 2000s. This isn't Brunell's first Hard Knocks dance: He was in the twilight of his standout playing career when he appeared on the 2010 season that documented the Jets. In it, Brunell's rugged good looks earned him the nickname of the Stetson Man. At one point, he warned young Jets QB Mark Sanchez to stay away from his daughter. Good times.
3) The quarterback
Jared Goff has appeared on two previous Hard Knocks seasons (2016 and 2020 with the Rams) and one season of All Or Nothing (2016), so we pretty much know what we're getting here. He's a laid-back California dude who likes playing golf. He doesn't seek out the cameras and knows how to stay out of the headlines. We're not expecting a lot here, but Hard Knocks cameras will always seek out QB1. Give us something, Jared!
4) The music
Hard Knocks always kills it in the soundtrack game. There are no throwaway musical choices on the show. Every selection mirrors the on-screen action in some fashion, and best of all -- it slays no matter the genre. There's a reason I've been personally cataloging Hard Knocks soundtracks for years -- always beginning with David Robidoux's iconic theme, of course. They are really good at this, and Hard Knocks head honcho Ken Rodgers teased in a recent interview that the legendary Detroit music scene will serve as divine inspiration. I'm all in … a seven nation army couldn't hold me back.
5) The goodbye
Finally, a personal note: For the past decade, it has been my assignment to handle episode recaps on NFL.com. It's a job I took seriously, I loved doing the work, and people seemed to enjoy it. If you've been reading along over the years, I can't thank you enough. Alas, everything ends, and I'll be handing over recap duties to NFL Media colleague Brendan Walker. He'll do great.
It ain't over, however! While Brendan handles the recaps on NFL.com, Colleen Wolfe and I will be busy launching a brand new Hard Knocks podcast with reaction and analysis after each episode every Tuesday night through the Sept. 6 finale. We are pumped about this new opportunity and we'd love for you to come on the journey with us. Follow Around The NFL wherever you get your podcasts to hear the show about our favorite football show.
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