HBO 'Hard Knocks' 2020: Best Rams, Chargers Storylines, Reaction for Episode 1

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistAugust 12, 2020

Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay, right, greets Los Angeles Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn after their win during an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 23, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

"This year is not like any year we've had in the National Football League."

That is what Los Angeles Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn told his team during a Zoom meeting at the start of Tuesday's episode of Hard Knocks: Los Angeles. "Be ready for chaos, embrace it," he continued. "Because if we're going to play, the team that handles this the best will have the best chance of winning that trophy."

Nothing has gone according to script in 2020, so it's only fitting HBO's annual show breaks from its typical formula and highlights two teams heading into the season instead of one.

Tuesday's first episode took viewers behind the scenes of the Chargers' and Rams' preparations for what promises to be one of the most unusual NFL campaigns in league history amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Starting the episode with Lynn in a Zoom meeting stressing the importance of taking the situation seriously and Rams head coach Sean McVay wearing a mask underscored the reality of holding a football season during the middle of the pandemic.

It was a constant theme throughout the episode with explanations of training camp rules, signs reminding players to maintain social distance, temperature screenings, masks at practice, spread-out huddles and Chargers cornerback Casey Hayward Jr. struggling through a COVID-19 test even though he said "that wasn't the worst one I've had."

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Hayward wasn't the only one, as a number of players showed their discomfort with the swabs and antibody-test needles during examples of the new normal.

Masks also made it hard to recognize familiar faces, although McVay's look was almost as difficult to forget as his dog playing basketball:

All the safety measures are there for a reason, though, a point that was driven home when the Rams found out rookie linebacker Terrell Lewis tested positive. Another hard reality for the players is early roster cuts in an effort to minimize how many people are in the facilities.

Lynn and members of the front office held conversations with players that are typically reserved for the last couple of episodes of a season.

COVID-19 protocols were the main focus of Tuesday's episode, but both teams have plenty of work to do on the field. After all, the Rams went to the Super Bowl during the 2018 campaign and then missed the playoffs entirely in 2019 as one of the most disappointing teams in the league.

The Chargers were right there with them on the disappointing list considering they went 12-4 in 2018 and an ugly 5-11 in 2019. They also don't have Philip Rivers as the face of the franchise and are transitioning into a new era with rookie quarterback Justin Herbert.

All that training with a need to improve on the field at least paid off for Rams cornerback Donte Deayon:

Not every Rams cornerback was in a joking mood, as Jalen Ramsey walked out of a Zoom interview when reporters continued to press on with contract questions after he said he is worried about just what he can control.

Ramsey is entering the final year of his rookie contract, although one of the defensive players on the other team, Joey Bosa, agreed to a five-year, $135 million deal this offseason and shared the special moment with his father before telling his Chargers teammates he planned on buying a boat:

If he lives up to that contract, the Chargers' Hard Knocks appearance may be a preview for a playoff team.

First, though, they have to get through a challenging training camp during an unprecedented time in this country.