ALAMEDA, Calif. — Raiders coach Jon Gruden brought in comedian Frank Caliendo to do an impression of him during a team meeting at training camp.
It was good enough that Gruden probably could have Caliendo fill in should he need a day off during the season.
The performance served as the opening scene for Tuesday’s third episode of the “Hard Knocks” documentary, which featured a lot of helmet talk and a preseason game at the Arizona Cardinals.
Here are five takeaways from the HBO episode:
1. So much Antonio Brown.
For someone who barely has been at training camp, the star wide receiver sure has been a focal point.
It’s not surprising, as his ongoing battles to recover from frostbitten feet and wear the helmet he wants are made-for-TV dramas.
None of it seems to bother Gruden. He is seen at several points voicing full confidence in Brown to show up at various times while nearly everyone else appears to express doubts.
Gruden even offers a full-throated endorsement of the receiver’s legal fight in a conversation captured away from the practice field.
“We’ve known about the (helmet) grievance since the first day of OTAs,” Gruden said. “I give the guy credit for standing up for what he believes in.”
Brown looked healthy and drew rave reviews from the coaching staff for being mentally prepared and invested in the offense despite his absences and the perceived distraction.
What the show did dispel was any notion that the helmet issue is a media-driven narrative. It’s clearly a topic of confusion and frustration for some in the organization, even if there is widespread belief that it will work itself out.
Brown is seen reflecting on all the noise his situation has generated and wanting to move past it, though he is later seen leaving camp again.
The behind-the-scenes footage does leave the impression that Brown is staying ready mentally and physically, which should alleviate fans’ concerns.
Gruden even made a joke about cryotherapy. That has to be a good sign.
2. Players care about their Madden ratings
Every year sports gamers look forward to the release of the new Madden video game.
Players inevitably complain about how the game rates them in each category.
With producers of the popular game on location at training camp, it was rookie safety Johnathan Abram’s first opportunity to voice his displeasure.
“Why (do) you have my rating so low?” Abram asked.
Abram said Brown should have received a perfect score.
The rookie also lobbied on behalf of secondary-mates Karl Joseph and Lamarcus Joyner, while several players said that tight end Darren Waller had been disrespected.
3. Waller celebrates anniversary
Producers used an important date in Waller’s life to tell his story.
The team’s projected starting tight end, who was suspended for the 2017 season for substance abuse issues, celebrated two years sober while the team was in Napa.
Players rave about his breakout potential, which they also expressed to the video game producers, while he downplayed his ability as hype until he proves it.
His skills are immense. Giving his story a happy ending would be even bigger.
4. Confused Kyler
Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray greeted Brown at midfield after the preseason game and expressed shock at how much the Raiders blitzed him.
“Why’d they bring the house on me?” a bewildered Murray asked.
The Raiders defense gave Murray a rude introduction in his second preseason game, and he took an even worse beating in the media after a poor performance.
Gruden is seen before the game hyping up Murray’s NFL potential to his team, so they undoubtedly were ready.
5. Spit that out!
Abram continued his run of producing some of the most memorable scenes.
Tuesday featured his proclamation that he always swallows his chewing gum.
While the dangers of swallowing gum are often overblown, it’s generally not a recommended practice.
His teammates, of course, had all sorts of comments about what happens to the gum and how it’s extinguished from the body.