HBO 'Hard Knocks' 2018: Best Browns Storylines, Moments, Reaction for Episode 1

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistAugust 8, 2018

Cleveland Browns quarterbacks Tyrod Taylor, left, and Baker Mayfield throw passes during NFL football training camp Thursday, Aug. 2, 2018, in Berea, Ohio. (AP Photo/Ken Blaze)
Ken Blaze/Associated Press

"How do I help this team break the endless loop of losing?"

That is the question the narrator for HBO's Hard Knocks presented to the players, coaches and staff of the Cleveland Browns in the opening minutes of Tuesday's season premiere, setting the stage for an episode that delved into the behind-the-scenes efforts of the NFL's punching bag to turn things around as fast as possible after winning one game the last two years.

It is time for Cleveland sports to turn over a leaf and idolize a new winner, and the first episode fittingly started with the large mural of LeBron James being removed from a downtown building. There is a literal void for the Browns to fill in the city, and the pieces that will be tasked with doing so took center stage on HBO.

Head coach Hue Jackson started breaking the endless loop of losing by cleansing the past in ceremonious fashion, as HBO captured him jumping into Lake Erie just like he promised he would if the team didn't improve from 2016 to 2017.

Jackson's motivation extended well beyond a chilly swim, as he explained the stripes on the team's helmets won't be given but rather earned this season as everyone works to "change the narrative of the Cleveland Browns."

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Jackson can only go as far as his players take him, and the new quarterbacks he will work with wasted little time making an impression on audiences.

No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield was a fan favorite in the airport and at training camp, but it was Tyrod Taylor who earned praise from his coaches and teammates for his work ethic. Taylor, who led the Buffalo Bills to the playoffs last season, is the clear-cut starter, but Mayfield figures to benefit from being around that level of competition.

The bigger question is who the quarterbacks will be throwing to, especially after Josh Gordon tweeted on July 23 he wouldn't be with the team at the start of training camp as part of his treatment program.

He has played just 10 games over the last four seasons primarily because he was suspended for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy, but it was clear the team expects him back given Jackson's conversations with the coaching staff during Tuesday's episode.

Cleveland also traded Corey Coleman to Buffalo for a 2020 seventh-round pick, per ESPN's Adam Schefter, leaving the receiver room emptier even before Toni Grossi of ESPN Cleveland reported fourth-round pick Antonio Callaway was cited for marijuana possession and driving with a suspended license.

That is a position group in need of veteran leadership, and Jarvis Landry brought it in spades during Hard Knocks with a moving speech following a montage of practice struggles. He stressed the importance of practice and hard work if the team is going to emerge from the basement of the AFC North, bringing passion and fire Cleveland has been missing of late.

Audiences also saw Landry's home life with his girlfriend and child as part of the enjoyable off-field scenes that have come to define Hard Knocks.

Other light-hearted moments included a four-year-old fan planning a birthday party with Taylor, defensive end Carl Nassib lecturing teammates on personal finance and serving as the target of Jackson's jokes because of his affinity for Taylor Swift, linebacker Christian Kirksey drumming and Mayfield having to buy an RV as a quarterback hangout spot because he was a rookie.

Mayfield also had to sing in front of the entire team, proving even the No. 1 overall pick of the draft isn't safe from rookie antics.

The Browns also came together through tragedy during Tuesday's episode, as it was revealed Jackson lost his brother and mother during a two-week span. Between emotional discussions with his sister, text messages of support from Gordon, a hug from Taylor and a group hug including general manager John Dorsey that sent Jackson into tears, it was clear a support system was in place.

Football took a backseat to more important things through the prism of Jackson's family, but that support system will ultimately be tasked with helping the coach win.

The opening episode revealed the groundwork that is being built both on and off the field for a unit that plans on breaking the loop in the near future.

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