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‘Hard Knocks’ finds its first breakout star, the Raiders’ Johnathan Abram

Oakland Raiders defensive back Johnathan Abram stretches during a training camp session. (Eric Risberg/Associated Press)
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With a horseback ride in Napa, a deep debate over how to pronounce “salmon” and some big hits on the field, an Oakland Raiders rookie was the breakout star of the first episode of “Hard Knocks.”

Abram, a safety who was the 27th pick out of Mississippi State, and defensive end Clelin Ferrell, the No. 4 pick out of Clemson, started things off with a ride. “If #HardKnocks was just Johnathan Abram and Clelin Ferrell riding horses for an hour every week that would be fine,” one viewer tweeted.

But there was more solid entertainment from Abram, who discussed the pronunciation of “salmon” with quarterback Derek Carr. “How do you say, seared salmon, or seared sal-mon?” Abram asked Carr. “Salmon,” Carr replied.

“Salmon?” Abram said.

“Salmon,” Carr answered.

“So why not sal-mon?” Abram said.

At that point, Carr lost a little patience with the rookie. “It’s salmon,” he said. “You’ve got to learn this stuff, bro. You’ve got some money now. You’re going to go to some nice places.”

“And I’d like to say, ‘I’d like the seared sal-mon,’” Abram laughed.

Carr: “Good for you. Don’t ever change.”

Abram had the last word. “You know I’m not. I’m from the country. We ain’t going to say no salmon.”

The two weren’t finished there. They went at each other on social media Tuesday night over … parking.

Carr’s brother got into the act.

His entertaining star turn aside, Abram will be judged by what he does on the field and he showed flashes of promise there, too. In fact, he showed too many flashes, getting a warning from Coach Jon Gruden for blowing up offensive players during a drill in which players weren’t wearing pads. “I love the aggressiveness. That’s why you’re here,” Gruden said, “but not against our own people.”

That was enough for Skip Bayless, for what that’s worth. “Breakout star in tonight’s ‘Hard Knocks’: rookie first-round safety Johnathan Abram,” he tweeted. “Every time I turned on a MissSt game, he flashed. Heat-seeking missile in the Jack Tatum mold. Raider Nation will love his fearlessness.”

And he isn’t about to change. Tennessee Titans nose tackle Braxton Hoyett, a teammate of Abram’s at Mississippi State, tweeted, “Y’all can say what y’all want about @JohnathanAbram1, but he always been like this.”

In the defensive secondary meeting rooms, he’s focused. “You get a lot of lead-by-example guys,” defensive backs coach Jim O’Neil told the Las Vegas Review Journal. “He’s a follow-me-or-else guy. He’s an alpha dog. It’s my 10th year in the league. I’ve coached a lot of high draft picks. I’ve never seen a guy come in as a rookie and take control of the room.

“I told him we drafted him to help change the culture, not become the culture, and he’s done a great job of that. And that’s all the stuff outside of football.”

There’s also a serious side away from football, too, one that was only hinted at when Gruden picked up Abram’s 2-year-old daughter, Harlee, briefly. He arrived for a meeting with the Raiders in a sports coat, the NFL Network’s Jane Slater reported in April, because he “approached the visit like a job interview” and “he was inquiring about the school system for his daughter.”

Abram and his wife, Bri’Anna, lost Harlee’s twin sister during pregnancy, and they have since become advocates for the Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome Foundation. During the offseason, he described how Harlee “helped me gain another sense of purpose for what makes me tick and get up in the morning.”

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