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‘Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Detroit Lions’ Episode 3 Recap: Scrappy Players Balance on the Roster Bubble

I’ll say this about Hard Knocks – it makes preseason NFL games look watchable. Nay, monumental, what with the typically superb NFL Films presentation, which puts us eye-level with the players, who we hear grunting and jawing and breathing heavy as they crash into each other, a dramaturgical musical score amplifying the hits and catches and drops of an utterly meaningless game.

Meaningless, unless you’re a bottom-of-the-roster guy vying for a job, that is. The third episode of Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Detroit Lions keys in on those guys (par for the Hard Knocks course, of course). You know, the ones who dream of going all the way to the N! F! L! Not the high draft picks who could pay off all your debt with the loose change from their signing bonus, but the guys like Kalil Pimpleton, an undrafted rookie free agent from Central Michigan University who’s roughly no. 9 on a list of nine wide receivers. You gotta root for the kid. No choice. If you’re not rooting for him, you’re a cold fish with a dead heart who forgot how to dream.

For his rookie hazing, Pimpleton – signing bonus: $15k – got his teammates hooting and hollering as he took three tennis balls and pulled off a few tricky juggling maneuvers. He makes a few nice grabs during practice. His mom sits in the stands and marvels that her boy is playing in an actual NFL game that for most of the rest of the world is a terminally dull matchup with the Indianapolis Colts. A whole bunch of Lions starters didn’t dress for the game. I mean, ZZZ city. Naptime. The type of game only the most bored fan would watch, as long as the paint on the walls no longer required one to stare at it while it dries.


Unless your Kalil’s mom, who grits her teeth and utters “Darn it” when a touchdown pass bounces off his shoulder pad and tumbles to the turf. A pass thrown by David Blough, who we remember as the guy in Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Detroit Lions Episode 2 who fumbled the first preseason game away, and who may be on the cusp of the cut list, too. We hear him expel his Jim Nabors-like catchphrase yet again: “Gol-LY!” Hey Mr. Blough: This is HBO. You can drop an F-bomb. Drop three or four of ’em if you want. It’s OK! Your coaches do it ALL THE TIME.

Case in point: the days prior to the game. The Lions traveled to Indianapolis for joint practices with the Colts, and the first day, they looked like festering camel dung out there. Running back Jamaal Williams repeatedly scrapped with a Colts player and talked endless trash, and kinda played like trash, too. Cue a slo-mo montage of flubs as several Lions drop balls and trip over blades of grass and deserve circus-clown music instead of an NFL Films ubertheme. And irony of ironies, endlessly amusing vociferous running backs coach Duce Staley blew out his voice and can’t yell, so he chews his players’ asses in a whispery rasp, which is actually funnier.

Meanwhile, the episode introduces us to a couple other young players on the roster fringe. One is running back Craig Reynolds, who we Lions fans know as last season’s scrappy bottom-rung guy, who was sitting on his ass watching Netflix when he got the call, joined the team at the last second before a preseason game, introduced himself to his teammates in the huddle, and ripped off a few really nice runs, one for a TD. Earned himself a job doing that. Earned himself a nickname too: Netflix. But we don’t hear that nickname in his Hard Knocks mini-profile, because that nickname is one of HBO Max’s biggest competitors.

Reynolds’ story is quite moving. He plops on his hotel-room couch with his iPad for one of his regular chats with his older brother – who’s been in prison for 10 years, since Reynolds was 12. They laugh and they get serious and it’s the best candid moment so far of this Hard Knocks season.

“He’s still a role model, just shows you what not to do,” Reynolds says. “It’s motivation, it’s about life, it’s about everything.”

One of the other guys is Obinna Eze, who resides at the bottom of a heavily stacked list of offensive linemen. He’s only been playing football for seven years; he played basketball back in his native country, Nigeria. He gets called out in the o-line room by coach Hank Fraley – some tough-love coaching. During the game, his wife Yazmeen cheers for him in the stands. He might be the longest of longshots, and you get the sense that everyone should be savoring the moment. Eze’s shot at the big time may be brief.


Now let’s catch up with a few recurring storylines from this season:

  • Coach Dan Campbell continues to be a heart-on-his-sleeve non-stoic anti-Belichick character. Hint: You can tell he’s feeling some real feelings by how far up his head his ballcap sits. It perches way atop his red, red forehead as he gives his players a heartfelt speech after losing their first preseason game. He looks like he might cry at any moment. This guy. I just read in The Athletic how he wolfs down two or three pints of gelato every night – and he still looks like he can rip apart battleship anchor chains with his damn bare hands. The man must sweat liquid lard, or concentrated espresso.
  • Our head coach is the object of Liev Schreiber’s mightiest mighty-narrator intonations: “Dan Campbell has the team believing” – PAUSE FOR DRAMATIC EFFECT – “in themselves.”
  • Franchise savior/first-round draft pick Aidan Hutchinson gets praise: “It’s good to know it’s real,” defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn says of all the hype the defensive lineman brings with him. Hutchinson’s also the object of ribbing from Detroit standup comic Josh Adams, brought in to entertain during a team meeting: “You look like a big, strong Backstreet Boy.”
  • Rodrigo Report: Linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez continues to look like the real deal. No Lions fan worth their weight in jerseys for players we regret having owned and sadly ended up tossing in the donation box (I once owned and wore a Joey Harrington jersey, please pelt me with rancid cherry tomatoes and wet toilet paper wads, I deserve it) won’t get goosebumps watching this kid smash it up. During practice against a Colts player, he gets blocked out of a play but fights and fights and fights and still ends up on top of the guy. LET’S GO. That’s NFLshop.com, Lions, no. 44.

Oh, one last thing: The Lions won the preseason game. In dramatic fashion. Came down to the last play. It was almost something to get excited about. The best thing about Hard Knocks? It sums up these snoozefest games so nicely, you don’t have to actually watch them.

John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Read more of his work at johnserbaatlarge.com.

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