Hard Knocks Press Conference

(Photo by Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Transcript provided by Rob McBurnett Senior Manager, Communications

Hard Knocks Press Conference transcript Participants: ·         

General Manager John Dorsey·         

Head Coach Hue Jackson·         

HBO Sports Executive Vice President Peter Nelson·         

NFL Films Vice President, Senior Coordinating Producer Ken Rodgers 

Opening statements:

Nelson: “First,  I want to thank (Senior Vice President, Communications) Peter (John-Baptiste) here for all of  the hospitality. This is a world-class facility. I want to thank the  press – we are always thankful for the turnout. I want to thank the fans  – we make this show for you. Without a few folks, this would not be possible. Within the organization, we want to thank  owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam, (Chief Operating Officer) David Jenkins,  obviously (General Manager) John Dorsey and obviously, a special thanks  to (Head) Coach Hue Jackson. We also want to thank the staff, the coaches and the players. Without their trust,  allowing us both onto the field and into the locker room, not to mention  the offices and sometimes into their homes, the power of the show would  not be possible to be conveyed. Often when we talk about reality programming, I think we talk about something  escapism. Hard Knocks has an enduring appeal because of the caliber of  storytelling involved and that there is something more insightful about  it. What we are doing is taking a large group of individuals – over 100 between the players and the coaches themselves – that gets  whittled down into a community that becomes a team of 53. Then that team  becomes a family. While I think that fans can lose themselves in the  football, I think that they can also find themselves in the stories that they tell. Those stories would not be possible  without what I think is the greatest sports production company on earth,  NFL Films. We are very grateful for that partnership. To that end, I  think that I will thank the gentleman sitting next to me, Ken Rodgers, as well as the leadership of the NFL – (President,  Digital Media and NFL Network) Mary Anne Turck, (President and CEO of  NFL Network and Executive Vice President of Media for the NFL) and Brian  Rolapp – as well as the leadership of NFL Films, the inheritors of Steve Sabol’s legacy – (NFL Films Senior Vice  President) Ross Ketover and (NFL Films Executive Producer) Pat Kelloher  and the whole staff over there. I want to also state that our start time  is going to be Tuesday, August 7 at 10 p.m. If you are taking the family away for the summer, you can also watch on HBO  On-Demand. You can watch on our streaming platform, HBO Go. If you are  not a cable subscriber or you are a cord-cutter, you can watch on our  platform HBO Now. That is my sales pitch. Our narrator is the inimitable Liev Schreiber once again. With that, I want to turn  it over to Ken Rodgers, our QB for Hard Knocks, as well as Vice  President of NFL Films and coordinating producer of Hard Knocks. Thank  you.” 

Rodgers:  “Thanks, Peter, and thanks to everyone at HBO. It is quite an honor to be sitting up here with  these two gentlemen. I feel a sort of kinship with Mr. Dorsey here. I  also had a No. 1 pick. We at NFL Films were looking at the Browns for  Hard Knocks at the No. 1 pick from the very beginning. We did our research. We kept our thoughts to ourselves. We did not  really share it too much, though people tried to get the information out  of us. I know some people in this room certainly tried. We blocked out  the noise, and we got the team that we wanted – our No. 1 pick, the Browns on the show. Some people are cynical and  say there might not be anything good out of this pick. I do not know who  would say anything like that, but we are out to prove them wrong. We  think this is going to be one of our best seasons of Hard Knocks in its history. We think it is the right time with the  right team. All of us are excited as we have ever been in its 17-year  history of NFL Films producing this show with this team. A lot of people  will think about last season and previous seasons, but of course come August, this team and this show will be looking  forward. This is a real-time show that focuses on in-the-moment, so  whatever happens at camp is what the subject of the show will be. I am  sure that one of the first questions will be, ‘What is the first show going to be about?’ It has not happened yet so I do  not know. To address the elephant in the room, I think that a lot of  people will be asking about how a ‘certain someone’ will be featured.  This position on a football team demands a lot of attention, and it has always been that way on Hard Knocks. Yes, we  definitely will heavily be featuring Head Coach Hue Jackson (laughter). We will get that out of the way, I know that is everyone’s first  question. Thanks to everyone from the Browns, the Haslam family and  Peter (John-Baptiste) and the entire staff here. I will let Mr. Dorsey,  who everyone really wants to talk to, speak.” 

Dorsey:  “I just want to welcome you all here to Cleveland. I will just say this, a lot of you all know that  initially I was a little reluctant with this, but having the time to sit  down with the organization leadership, understanding that Hue has had a  little bit of experience with this, I am comfortable with where we are. I understand that the direction of our  team is in the right frame of mind. The one thing that I find very  appealing, it now gives the fans a chance to see how passionate people  are within this organization about the 2018 season. That is all I have to say.” 

Jackson:  “I will echo what John said, I can’t say enough first about our fans. I think it is going to give  them truly an opportunity to see how hard this team works and how much  they care. I think that is really important for us to give back to them  so that they can see our players, our coaches and our organization in a whole different light. Again, I do not think  anybody does it better than the NFL Films crew. They are outstanding at  doing this. As John just said, I have had some exposure. They do an  outstanding job of working together, working with the coaches, with the team and with all involved in the organization to  put the best product out there. They do. It is truly a working  collaboration with groups. I think when you have that, great things  happen. At the same time, our football team’s focus will be getting ready for the 2018 season. We will be digging in and doing it  the way that we do it. Our players are excited about it. They are  excited for people to see how hard they work and what they do on an  everyday basis to be the best that they can be. I think that is exciting.” 

On the decision to choose the Browns for Hard Knocks and how much the team’s free agency transactions and draft impacted the choice:

Rodgers:  “The choice is really a collaborative effort with HBO. We always see this as a three-way partnership between  the team chosen, the network that is airing it and the company that  makes it. We really have to have all three to be all in to make a great  show. The Browns were intriguing for us really because of the overall storyline that is a part of the American culture,  which is we tell our kids that it is not about how hard you get knocked  down; it is about how you get back up. This is a unique situation,  having such turnover on the roster, of starting new with some old pieces, with some valuable new pieces that will speak  to fans. What we generally think of when we select a team is who would  the national audience be interested in finding out what is going on with  a team. Nationally, right now, the Browns are a big story, and rightfully so. Our goal is to create fans across  the country, not just here in Cleveland, for this franchise. This  happens naturally. That happens because you might be a fan of a team,  but you grew to like the players and coaches on the Hard Knocks team and they are suddenly your second-favorite team, and  you follow them a little bit closer. It has really helped build the  audience for the show, changing teams like this. The unique storyline  was one that was present from the start, which was really the end of last season. We have bene interested in the Browns for  quite a many years. We have such respect for the franchise. Of course,  if you grow up under Steve Sabol as a filmmaker, you know about the  Cleveland Browns and you are told about how important that franchise is. We kept an eye on free agency and the draft, but we  had already targeted out No. 1 pick. I think that solidified it in the  fact that they had quite an interesting free agency period and draft. It  was definitely thought of way before then that this is the team that we wanted to do.” 

On if having the additional crew at the facility will be a distraction to the team:

Jackson:  “Obviously, there are all kind of sides to this, but if I do a good job and the staff does a good  job of really making sure that our players understand what we are here  to do – we will get to work on that because I think that is important –  that it will not [be a distraction]. Like I said, the partners in this – we mentioned this a second ago – that  there may be a guy or two that we have to make sure that we work through  certain things with and that is just part of it, but I feel very  comfortable with our locker room, with our organization and with the leadership that is here, that we can make this happen and  make it valuable for all involved.” 

On if having Hard Knocks present will furthermore ‘stir-up’ the QB competition:

Jackson:  “I do not think so. It is a competition anyway. Tyrod (Taylor) is our starting quarterback. Baker (Mayfield) is  our No. 1 pick, he is our quarterback of the future. I have said that  since this happened, I do not think that will change. I want those guys  to be exposed for what they do because I think that our fans want to know them and what makes them tick. But at the  same time, I do not think should put any more pressure on our football  team about who is playing quarterback for us.” 

On if Jackson’s received much reaction from friends and colleague to being on Hard Knocks with the Cincinnati Bengals and his interactions with players being displayed:

Jackson:  “I do not really remember that part of it. I know that I enjoyed my time in dealing with the show. I was who I was.  I was not changing. The organization there had been through it before  and so I learned a lot from it. It was a real good period at that time  in that organization. I think that there are some lessons that I have learned that I can share with the players. As  far as me individually, it is never, ‘I do not know what I did or did  not do.’ I know that I enjoyed the process and I know that the  organization enjoyed the process.” 

On who has the final say on what is aired on the show:

Rodgers:  “In one way, what the team does on a daily basis determines the product naturally because we do not determine who  rooms with who, who makes the team, who is brought on – nothing is  determined by us. We are true documentarians that stand back and show  you what is actually happening. I think that your question is more about editorial control. In that case, what we do allow  is the coach and GM to watch the show for competitive balance on  Tuesday morning, which is the morning that it airs. We will screen the  show for them to make sure that there are no audibles heard in the background that might tip off the other team, make sure  that there is nothing on blackboards in the rooms and make sure that it  is erased in post-production. We do a lot of whiteboard erasing in  post-production to make sure that plays, sometimes phone numbers or whatever sensitive information might be seen that could  affect competitive balance are not seen by other teams. Other than  that, it has really been a trust factor throughout the years. Really not  just because the start of the show in 2001, the trust factor for NFL Films and the trust factor in that we have been  around for 52 years and started shooting training camp with (Pro  Football Hall of Fame Head Coach) Vince Lombardi, we know where to go  and we know how to stay out of the way. Our crews have done this multiple, multiple, multiple, times. We know how to  capture what we need and what the audience is looking for without  stumbling around and shooting things that are not necessary and might  not apply to the show.” 

On initial reluctance to having Hard Knocks this season and ultimately becoming comfortable with it:

Dorsey:  “First off, the whole understanding, kind of what Ken was talking about and how they go through the whole process,  I wanted to kind of get an understanding of that. Then just listening  to some of the things that Hue had said, with regards to how his  experience was with that, so there was a degree of comfort there. But also, I started to think about the fan base. This is a  great time for them to see the direction that we are headed as an  organization. I am one of those guys that as a young man, I grew up with  Steve Sabol, and I loved those NFL Films. I did, I loved those things. I know that these guys are going to do a  quality job because not only are they going to show what the National  Football League game is about but who the Cleveland Browns are moving  forward. As coach told you, this thing is going to be tied up, and that focus is going to be on the 2018 season. That is  the direction we are moving.” 

On the timeline of filming, production and editing the weekly product:

Rodgers:  “The script we write overnight for Liev (Schreiber) on Monday night. Writing probably begins around midnight for  that process, and we voice with Liev Schreiber early Tuesday morning.  We try to fit everything that happens here in camp up through Monday, if  appropriate, into the show Tuesday night. It is a very quick turnaround. Aside from the first week where camp is a  little longer, every show is only comprised of what happened the  previous seven days. We are constantly editing back at NFL Films,  finding out storylines and shooting our new material here. It is a real-time show. That does not happen at a lot of places.  Shows like Survivor are shot months ahead of time, editing and crafting  storylines. We actually do not have that luxury. It has worked out  perfectly in that we do not create the storylines themselves; the storylines present themselves to us, and we see  ourselves as faithful documentarians to just transfer that knowledge of  what is going on here at camp to the fans.” 

On the attractiveness behind filming Hard Knocks in Cleveland:

Rodgers:  “I think the history, for one. At least in our building, the history of the organization is such that they will  always be a blue-blood NFL franchise. When you talk about Paul Brown  being the first coach and the last coach before the Browns left being  Bill Belichick, you realize the scope of history that the Browns have covered. I think there is something that has always  been attractive to the blue-collar work ethic of Cleveland matching its  football team. That is not everywhere, some teams are more glamorous,  some teams want to overpower you and be tough, there always seems to be this outside perception that this is about hard  work here in Cleveland both on and off of the field. I know that is  something we will see when we are here in August. I think that is why  the Browns are so well-liked across the board and so payed attention to, because it speaks to something about that  Midwest work ethic.” 

On when they first approached the Browns for Hard Knocks:

Rodgers:  “We have spoken for years. I can’t remember for how many years, but it has been five or more that we have been  discussing with the Browns organization. What you have to remember is  picking a Hard Knocks team is not like going up to a woman at a dance  and asking for a dance the first time you speak to her. The relationship is already there. We have relationships with all  32 teams and have since the beginning. We work weekly on the game  highlights and the wiring, and the player profiles, the highlight film,  the draft coverage. This is a very familiar relationship we have. The conversation is one of how do you feel about the show? It  is not just this show, we discuss a show with every team each year for  various programs. The Browns, I would not say have ever been reluctant.  They were very reasoning with the show. Mr. Haslam and ourselves at NFL Films have had many conversations that have  been completely positive, but the timing was not right. I will be  honest, sometimes the timing is not right for NFL Films or the timing is  not right for HBO. That is why I said it really does take all three of us to say, ‘Hey, this is the right time.’ It felt  like the right time to cover the Buccaneers last year. It felt like the  right time to cover the Rams when they moved to Los Angeles. Every year  I can point to it, I can say, nationally we felt like it was the right time. You know what? I am glad we did not  do it the year before or the year before, because this worked out  perfectly. I feel like this is one of those cases.” 

On player cuts being televised:

Dorsey:  “To me, it is probably the hardest thing from our standpoint because you have young men that have actually given  all that they have for years – others, young guys. I have always done  this, you have to treat them with dignity. You have to treat those young  men [with dignity] and thank them for all that they have done. I am going to treat this with dignity, I always  have with releasing players. I always will treat players with dignity.” 

On guarding against affecting or creating a storyline for the show:

Rodgers:  “We listen a lot. There is obviously a balance that we strike. We cannot fit all 90 players into each episode. Yes, at a  certain point, we have to make the call of what storylines we think  that the fans will find most interesting. We often find those form the  team itself. Hey, everyone seems to be talking about this young rookie that is doing this. Hey, the players are joking  with this player over here about his nickname, and we pick up on it.  What is the nickname and we will look into that storyline. Certain  position groups are more of a focus than others. Certain players have more pressure or stress, given their contract or  their length in the league or their position on the depth chart. We just  listen. That is our role to listen what these two are saying about the  club and which of the 90 players are going to be on the 53, not on the 53, fighting for the 53. That is the key to  our show.” 

On how much film is not used:

Rodgers: “Well, we shoot 400 hours for every one hour episode that airs. So 399 hours out of 400 a week.” 

On how many people go through the footage:

Rodgers:  “We have a team of 25 producers that are on staff back at NFL Films in Mt. Laurel, N.J., that go through the  footage on an hourly basis as it is coming back. We will have a  dedicated internet pipeline installed here at the Browns facility so as  practice is being filmed, the footage will be fed back to NFL Films from here. By the time that practice ends, my staff and I  will be looking through the beginning of practice back in Mt. Laurel,  listening to what happened in practice so that we can stay up to date  with the storylines. Of course, cutting that down to an hour, all of that footage, is a lot of immediate decisions. Much  like writing on deadline, you trust your instincts as a storyteller and  say that I think this is what is going to attract fans and what fans are  going to appreciate and what best represents what is actually happening – the truth here at camp.” 

On the process of communicating with teams:

Rodgers:  “I would say that on a yearly basis, we discuss with several if not a dozen, teams. I can remember the year  before we did the Jets, Rex Ryan was totally opposed to doing it, and  the next year he felt that his team was ready. I know that (Bengals Head  Coach) Marvin Lewis felt the same thing when we came twice to the Bengals, that this was the right time, when in  previous years he said that, ‘I do not feel it this year with this team.  It is not the right time.’ It has been a discussion with multiple  teams. Our goal to be honest is to one day check our last box and have had every NFL franchise on Hard Knocks.” 

On if a team can ‘veto’ a portion or a storyline: 

Rodgers:  “No, and here is why. You guys are following the storyline, as well. It does not make sense for the team to say,  ‘Well, here is a national story or here is a big story that is being  followed, and we are not going to talk about it on Hard Knocks. Our goal  is to tell the truth as to what is happening here at camp. The veto power to be honest has never come up. We all know what  we are getting into when we come in here and get set up into a show,  storylines that happen at camp are going to be on the show. Some of them  – injuries, cuts, there have certainly been fights and things like that – sure, the franchise if they had complete  control of the show would ask, ‘Why put that out?’ I think that the  trust factor of this being a true representation of what happens at camp  makes people realize that we are not out to glorify anything or make anything too dramatic than it was. Our goal is to show  exactly what happened. Cuts are a great example. We do not  over-dramatize that situation and try to make something much more of  this conversation than what it was. Here is what happens, this is the conversation and it is difficult for everyone.” 

On why now is the right time for the Browns to be on Hard Knocks:

Dorsey: “As  you sit and just asses the overall organization, I think we have done a good job as an organization of strengthening that locker  room. Once you begin to have strength within that locker room, the guys  will begin to set those goals and those objectives for the younger  players, and they will be able to follow that lead. Then when you have the coaching staff that we have here, as you  constantly reinforce that message that day in and day out and day in and  day out, guys are going to start to understand the most important thing  for this organization moving forward is the 2018 season. That is our sole objective here is to be competitive in the  AFC North. We have always talked about that. I think the guys in the  locker room are there, and I think with the coaching staff and the  reinforcement of the message on a daily basis and just understanding that this is a quality thing that is taking place.  When NFL Films is doing these types of shoots and stuff, I am  comfortable with that.” 

On if Jackson plans to talk to certain players as it relates to not playing up for the cameras:

Jackson: “No,  I am just going to talk to the team. I think we have leaders in the room who understand what we are trying to accomplish.  This is just going to be a tool for all involved, another opportunity to  truly see what we do on an everyday basis and really be able to see the  behind the scenes work that goes on here. Nothing more, nothing less with our football team. That is why I truly believe  we won’t be distracted. We have too much work to do to get ready to play  a big season.” 

On which season of Hard Knocks has been most successful up to now:

Rodgers: “Up to now because I was going to predict the Cleveland Browns (laughter).  I certainly think the opening series with the Baltimore Ravens is one  that will forever be looked upon by me as something really special  because that is just when I started working at the company and there was a buzz  around the building with my boss, Ross Ketover back there running the  show back then. It was such a new thing. There were not many reality  television shows on television. There was Survivor and Real World, and no one thought about coming to an NFL franchise and  exposing the fans to the truth behind the scenes, and the characters on  that show were outstanding. I think we took another leap with (former  NFL Head Coach) Rex Ryan and the Jets in a market like that with a team whose message was, ‘Yes, we are going to be  loud and proud, and you can beat us? Try. Just try.’ That was not a  creation by us. That is what the team’s message was that year. That, I  think, certainly made good television. Along with those two years, I have to mention the ones that have won the Emmys  for best serialized documentary program because they are some of my  favorite because they were recognized – the Bengals won in ’09; the Jets  won in ’10 and the Texans won for best series and just recently, we won with the Buccaneers. It was just a couple  weeks ago announced and we were awarded in New York the Emmy for best  documentary series. There is just a certain series about a successful  Hard Knocks show. Early on – it is way too early to tell – but I think whether or not they are fans of the Cleveland  Browns, NFL fans are really going to see something insightful about what  it takes to make a football team this summer.” 

On Jackson’s initial reaction to the NFL’s new National Anthem policy:

Jackson: “I  am just really hearing about it. I want to go back and really truly understand it, and I will do that. I know one thing that I  am most proud about is the way our players handled it this past year and  Dee and Jimmy and what they have done with the summits they have had  with our players, and all of the dialogue we have had with about these things I think have been spectacular. I am  sure that we will discuss it further, but I think our organization has  kind of really taken a step forward with that to address what was going  on. Like I said, I will know more about it once I hear it in its entirety.” 

On the sports broadcast community’s reaction to learning the Browns would be featured on Hard Knocks:

Nelson: “I  think we have seen an overwhelmingly positive response to the selection of the Browns. I think it speaks to a lot of the things  that Ken has already enumerated so eloquently in that this in many ways  is an American franchise and is an American team, and it is also a  headline story right now and it is an underdog story. People love rooting for underdogs. I think there is a strong  human element to that which is going to get fleshed out on the show.”  

On if Hard Knocks will be present when Jackson jumps into Lake Erie:

Jackson: “No, Hard Knocks should have nothing to do with the lake (laughter). Please no.” 

Rodgers: “We  could ask, but the truth about Hard Knocks is that when we have shot things in the offseason, they are the first things on the  cutting room floor because what happens in camp is so immediate, so  interesting and so exciting that backstory really takes a backseat. A  lot of people thought we would have a lot of the move from St. Louis to Los Angeles. Come August when the show started,  they were in camp and the move had already happened. We pride ourselves  on being really up to date on this show. If we didn’t shoot it, someone  would have footage of something that happens in the next couple of months that I guarantee would be really exciting  now and come August, no one would want to see it on the show.” 

Sponsored Content

Sponsored Content