‘Hard Knocks’ premieres on HBO tonight: Here are four things to watch for


Kroy Biermann lines up for a pass rushing drill. (John Bazemore/AP)

HBO’s “Hard Knocks” premieres on Tuesday night, and whether you’re an Atlanta Falcons fan or not, you’ll want to tune in. Each year, HBO’s cameras go behind the scenes to film one NFL team as it prepares for the regular season. Besides getting a better look at starters, coaches and other personnel who will remain with the team throughout the regular season, one of the best parts of the program is the drama of watching the rookies. You’ll develop your favorites and, inevitably, at least one of them will get cut. Don’t be surprised if you cry a little.

Of course, the main theme isn’t necessarily sadness, but drama. Here are four things to watch for on “Hard Knocks” this year:

Be ready to root for Tyler Starr. You may not know the rookie linebacker’s name yet, but it’s likely you will by the time “Hard Knocks” is over. Starr was picked in the seventh round of the NFL draft and is far from a sure thing when it comes to making the team. But the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that the HBO did some background work on the athlete before shooting began, so it seems likely he’ll be an ongoing main character this season.

Be on the lookout for Arthur Blank, the team’s owner. Blank is known to be a bit of a ham, and the fact that he’s been at the Falcons training camp for the last eight days — a franchise record, according to the Journal Constitution — seems to indicate that the owner is looking for some screen time. Perhaps he’ll even be able to sneak a few words in about his other sports franchise — an Atlanta-based MLS expansion team that will play for the first time in 2017. He’s gotten emotional about it before, after all. “It is very close to my heart,” Blank, whose son plays soccer, told the Saporta Report in April.

Look out for on-field fights. Not everything will be touchdowns and high-fives on the always-contentious practice field. A teaser, which can be viewed on the Falcons’ Web site, for Tuesday night’s first episode features a scrap between defensive end Kroy Biermann and rookie tackle Jake Matthews. “You hit me in the face again, 70 [the number Matthews is wearing], you see what the [expletive] happens,” Biermann says. NFL.com declares Biermann “a potential breakout star of the season.”

Get ready for surprises. “Hard Knocks” is reality TV at its most real. How someone performs or if someone gets injured cannot be scripted — and the cameras are covering everything. ESPN reports:

As of the end of Sunday’s practice, [NFL Films supervising producer Rob] Gehring said between 250-300 hours of footage had been captured, including video taken before training camp started. There are six regular cameras at practice along with nine robotic cameras. Typically, the crew has four boom microphones and 10-12 coaches and players wear microphones during practice to collect all the necessary audio. …

The Falcons have provided their share of drama so far with a handful of fights, repeated trash talk between safety William Moore and receiver Roddy White, verbal tirades by line coaches Bryan Cox and Mike Tice, and at least one frightening moment when tackle Terren Jones was rushed to the hospital after suffering a concussion. …

“What’s interesting for me is as much as any team I’ve been around, the stars on this team are comfortable with the idea of the show, they’re open to the idea of the show, they’re being themselves and pretty entertaining.” Gehring said. “That’s been cool.”

Marissa Payne writes for The Early Lead, a fast-breaking sports blog, where she focuses on what she calls the “cultural anthropological” side of sports, aka “mostly the fun stuff.” She is also an avid WWE fan.
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