Hard Knocks: The Miami Dolphins, Episode 1 Discussion

Throughout this season, Dolphins fans Vinny Ginardi and super-guest blogger Patrick Dillon will discuss each episode of the HBO series Hard Knocks. The two will exchange their thoughts on each episode and the ins and outs of the 2012 Miami Dolphins. They are hoping this will not be the most entertaining part of the season.

Vinny Ginardi: Let’s get this out of the way: Chad Johnson Ochocinco Johnson is made for Hard Knocks. For an episode focusing heavily on the seriousness and business side of what went into the first week of training camp of the Miami Dolphins, Johnson was always there to lighten the mood with a few laughs. I can’t think of an NFL player that could better fit the role of comic relief than Chad Johnson.

I’ll admit that this was the first episode of Hard Knocks that I’ve ever watched, but I was completely captivated. Of course, as a Miami Dolphins fan I had extra involvement with the show, but I found myself constantly checking how much time was left in the episode, always hoping for more. What impressed me the most was the show’s ability to create an emotional connection to players I had never heard of, such as the first player cut, Derrick Dennis (who of course signed with the New England Patriots and will inevitably become a star) and rookie tight end Les Brown. After seeing Brown’s competitiveness and never-give-up attitude, I am actively rooting for him to make the team.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, I can’t even put into words how upset I was to see Vontae Davis out of shape. I had read some reports of him disappointing in camp, but seeing him gassed and the coaches talk about him in a negative manner was bothersome. This is a player who has Pro-Bowl level talent, and I hope he will turn it around soon.

Obviously, the biggest storyline that Hard Knocks will cover is the quarterback battle. What were some of your thoughts on that QB battle and the premiere as a whole, Pat?

Pat Dillon: I can not believe this is your first time watching Hard Knocks. I even watched it when the Jets were on it! (Best part of that series is a tie between Cromartie not remembering all of his kid’s names and Bart Scott calling Mark Sanchez, “Nacho”…and Rex Ryan being fat)

I really enjoyed the premiere episode, which was no surprise to me. I like the show in general because it is fascinating to see the players behind the scenes being real people along with seeing the inner workings of an NFL franchise, especially when it is your favorite team. Seeing familiar faces like Reggie Bush, Jake Long, and of course Chad was enjoyable, but I hope in the future episodes, we get to see more of the stars of the squad. The best part of the show though is seeing the pranks pulled on the rookies. It did not disappoint in this episode as some of the rookie defensive lineman had parts of their hair dyed bleach-blond. The main rookie Tannehill received no grief from the veterans, but I am sure his time is coming. The QB battle is very unique in that there are three viable candidates in David Garrard, Matt Moore, and the rookie Ryan Tannehill. Early on in the episode, the three way battle is shown by meeting the families of each quarterback. The audience sees an array of random things from Moore feeding his child to Garrard on a surfboard getting dragged by his boat to Tannehill and his wife (who has really long arms) walking their dogs (one big and one small, which I do not get why people pair up pet dogs like this, but that’s another discussion for another day). It is a nice insight to their personal lives, and they are all great guys who respect each other even though they are competitors. This respect is portrayed by Hard Knocks on the field, even showing a clip of Moore and Garrard asking each other how their day is going, which Garrard responding with, “Fantabulous”.

Speaking of on the field action, one segment is Philbin describing his unique practice strategy. Due to the 3-way QB battle along with practicing in the intense Miami weather, he wanted a way to get as many plays (reps)  in a practice as possible in order to see as much of the three QBs as possible while keeping practice under 3 hours. His strategy is to have plays alternating constantly. For example, Moore and the first team offense may run a play against the first team defense, with Philbin and the other coaches watching in the middle of the field at the 50 yard line. As soon as the play is over, he will say something like “Good throw Matt” and then spin around, face the other side of the field, and watch Garrard and the second team offense run a play against the second team defense. I believe it is a great plan in order to see a lot more of the quarterback play, make sure no one passes out in the heat, and makes the team play at a much higher tempo.

Who will come out of training camp as the team’s starter?

Back to the QB battle though. Before practice even began, I thought that Moore should have been named the starter due to his success in the second half of last season, but I have been very surprised by the resurgence of Garrard as well as the early success of Tannehill, so I really want to see who rises to the top of the depth chart when it is go time against the Texans in week one. At the end of the episode, we found out that Garrard is first on the depth chart currently, but a lot can change with a month left of training camp.

I spoke a lot about Coach Philbin so far. What did you think of him in front of the cameras, along with the other “higher-ups” of the Fins?

VG:I agree with your take on quarterback battle so far. Moore proved to be a solid quarterback late last season and already has the respect of his teammates and firm grasp on the the playbook, so for now I think he deserves to be listed first on the depth chart. As Philbin said though, this was more of formality and the position is still very much up for grabs.

It will be interesting to see how the Dolphins play under new head coach Joe Philbin.

As for Philbin, everything about him surprised me. As you mentioned he has an unconventional way of running training camp, and doesn’t sound or look like a NFL coach. He looks George Sr. from Arrested Development and compared to most coaches in the NFL, he seems to be a bit soft spoken. He still says what needs to be said, as seen by his meeting with Chad about dropping F-Bombs on the air, but he’s just very calm and controlled in his ways. The players seem to respect him so far, which is obviously a good sign. But the biggest takeaway for me is how natural he looked. This is a rookie head coach, but you could have fooled me.

We saw a decent amount of the higher-ups in this episode, from cutting Dennis to working on signing Tannehill to interviewing Braylon Edwards. Seeing how much Tannehill’s holdout bothered Jeff Ireland was surprising and refreshing. We never get that sort of inside access when a holdout is ongoing, so it was cool to see how that type of situation actually affects the organization. I find the business side of football to particularly interesting, so I hope to see more of this going forward, but I’m not sure we will.

What are you looking forward to most in next week’s episode?

PD: When the Dolphins first announced that they hired George Sr. Joe Philbin as their new head coach, his first press conference made me think, “This guy is almost as boring as Bill Belichick.” Hopefully he has the same success as him, but from a ‘being on an HBO show’ stand-point, I thought (along with many others I’m sure) that he could put you to sleep. But he has been very personable, especially when he told Chad Johnson that he had to leave the coaches’ meeting because they were talking about him.

As for Jeff Ireland, it was good seeing how much work goes into being a general manager of a team. He has done a good job rebuilding the team (FINALLY drafting a quarterback in the first round since a guy named Dan Marino), and it seems as if he is going to continue to do his best to improve the team. The good publicity should help out his image for both Fins fans and NFL fans in general, considering this is the same guy that once asked a draft prospect if his mother was a prostitute (Nice one, Jeff!).

For next Tuesday’s (August 14th) episode, I am hoping for the following:

- Cameron Wake- This guy is an international sack machine, having had 67 sacks over the past five seasons (in both the CFL and NFL) and is looking to improve on a 2011 campaign where he only had 5.5 sacks. The Fins are switching from 3-4 to a 4-3, so I am curious to see how he is handling the switch. Plus, there is still a large portion of the NFL fan base that isn’t fully aware of this guy’s football and life journey.

- Rookies- We got a taste of what Mr. Tannehill is about, but there are some other Miami Dolphin draft picks that could contribute to the 2012 season. Jonathan Martin protected Andrew Luck’s blind side at Stanford last year and the second round pick now is fighting for the starting Right Tackle position. Third round pick Michael Egnew, a Tight End from Missouri, is going to be the second TE behind Anthony Fasano, but in a league where Tight Ends are making huge impacts in games (see Graham, Jimmy and Gronkowski, Rob), this is an athletic player who hopefully strike fear into opposing defenses. Lastly, there are a couple of Miami Hurricanes, Running-back Lamar Miller and Defensive End Olivier Vernon, who are both looking to get some playing time, even though those positions are very deep for the Dolphins this year.

- Chad “The Receiver formerly known as Ochocinco” Johnson- Need I say more?