Jon Gruden and his Raiders coaching staff didn’t want a visit from the HBO series “Hard Knocks” this training camp, didn’t seek such exposure following last year’s forgettable 4-12 record, didn’t believe such intrusion would be in the best interest of improvement.
And yet even after accepting that they would be the NFL side featured, it’s impossible to believe anyone forecast this: That in the first episode, which ran Tuesday night, defensive lineman Ronald Ollie would be shown in as many football-related clips as Antonio Brown.
The player from “Last Chance U” got nearly as many reps as the best wide receiver in the game.
Which, given the undrafted rookie free agent Ollie was cut a few days after camp commenced in Napa, California, tells you how frustrating things have become with the team’s biggest offseason acquisition.
Nobody questioned whether dinosaurs existed or mermaids are real, and no one showed up to practice wearing overalls and a cowboy hat and boots, and nobody struggled naming all of his children. Training camp with the Raiders has a ways to go before it ranks among the wackiest of offerings in “Hard Knocks” history.
Listen, the poem about the autumn wind being a Raider and pillaging just for fun and he’ll knock you ’round and upside down and laugh when he’s conquered and won is a pretty tough act to then follow over 60 minutes.
It might take a few episodes to get things rolling.
So it was a tepid beginning overall, not compelling by most any standard, with some punchy one-liners and the much publicized hot air balloon ride on which Brown arrived to camp.
“Float like a butterfly, sting like AB,” Brown said.
But probably not stinging as much as his feet right now.
We knew rookie safety Johnathan Abram would rank among the team leaders in smack talk and he more than filled the role, angering teammates and a coach in Gruden, who didn’t take kindly to him hitting others before pads went on.
Now all Abram has to do is back things up when games begin, or he’ll be the one full of hot air.
I often judge “Hard Knocks” on the reaction of my wife and 18-year-old daughter, committed fans of the show annually.
A few responses …
Wife: “Who is this Abram guy? He talks too much. I don’t like him.”
Daughter: “What’s the deal with Richie Incognito? They’re making it seem like he has a few problems.”
One of the better moments came when Brown’s three young sons joined him on the field — at which time he was again not practicing — and he was asked about the quarterback position.
“Where’s Roethlisberger?” asked one son of his father’s former teammate — Ben, the quarterback — in Pittsburgh.
“He plays with the Steelers,” Brown said. “Our quarterback is Derek now. We don’t play with Roethlisberger no more … We play with Derek Carr. That’s my quarterback. You know his name? What’s his name?”
“Derek Carter?” answered another son.
So that kid is now my favorite.
It was a nice touch for the episode to end with Gruden talking to the team about Raiders great Cliff Branch, the three-time Super Bowl champion wide receiver who died this week. It was a fun touch to see a 2000 interview with former Raiders coach John Madden spliced into present day action and praising the seven-man sled.
But when a guy’s bad feet are the highlight of an episode, however significant that star wideout might be, you know things have started slow.
It was earlier Tuesday when a report from NBC Sports’ Chris Simms suggested Brown’s blistering ailment was caused by using a cryotherapy machine without the proper footwear, resulting in frostbite.
If true, perhaps in next week’s episode, Gruden will address whether the team had any idea Brown was seeking such a relief for pain, or if it even approves of such measures.
(I wouldn’t count on anyone addressing it, by the way).
But no matter how interesting (or not) the series proves to be, if Brown can’t heal in time for the season opener and this foot issue drags into real games, know this: In a year when the Raiders spent a lot of money for a lot more skill, running the offense might not prove so effortless.
Even for this Derek Carter guy.
Contact columnist Ed Graney at email@example.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.