‘Hard Knocks’ no boon for Browns

2 of the last 4 coaches fea­tured on show were fired by end of sea­son

USA TODAY US Edition - - SPORTS - Lind­say H. Jones KEN BLAZE/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

As if the Browns didn’t face a big enough chal­lenge as they try to re­bound from last year’s 0-16 sea­son, now they’ll face the Hard Knocks Effect, which might be on the way to re­plac­ing the Sports Il­lus­trated Jinx in the NFL.

Hard Knocks, HBO’s Emmy-award win­ning doc­u­men­tary se­ries that an­nu­ally chron­i­cles an NFL train­ing camp, is head­ing to Cleve­land this sum­mer.

While that’s great news for fans — who doesn’t want an in­side look at the start of No. 1 pick Baker May­field’s career? — it might not be good news for the Browns them­selves. And head coach Hue Jack­son should be es­pe­cially wary.

Two of the last four head coaches (Mike Smith, Jeff Fisher) fea­tured on Hard Knocks were fired by sea­son’s end, while only five of the 12 teams that have ap­peared on the se­ries made the play­offs. Nei­ther of the last two Hard Knocks play­off teams, the 2013 Ben­gals and

2015 Tex­ans, made it out of the wild­card round. None of the last three teams (Tex­ans, Rams and Buc­ca­neers) im­proved upon their pre­vi­ous sea­son’s record — though that’s a low bar for the win­less Browns.

Still, it will be in­ter­est­ing to see how HBO frames the up­com­ing sea­son.

Cleve­land has won one game since Jack­son’s ar­rival in 2016 with a quar­ter­back carousel that has be­come com­i­cal. We can al­ready pic­ture how the first episode will be­gin — with slow-mo­tion shots of Jack­son’s im­pend­ing leap into Lake Erie (sched­uled for June 1) to make good on a prom­ise he’d dunk him­self should the team fail to im­prove on its

1-15 showing in 2016. And go ahead and toss in some dra­matic b-roll from the Jan­uary pa­rade in which ap­prox­i­mately

3,000 Browns fans “cel­e­brated” the 0-16 sea­son. There will be shots of fans wear­ing bags over their heads and scenes from the draft party — Cleve­land’s ver­sion of the Su­per Bowl — cel­e­brat­ing May­field’s ar­rival.

It should be com­pelling to see how HBO ad­dresses Jack­son’s job se­cu­rity and how the se­ries will de­pict the quar- ter­back sit­u­a­tion, given Jack­son an­nounced vet­eran Ty­rod Tay­lor would be the starter in 2018 well be­fore May­field was drafted.

Hard Knocks has a way of turn­ing its cho­sen team into a fan fa­vorite thanks to cre­ative sto­ry­telling and ex­cep­tional ac­cess. Who didn’t watch last sea­son and not think Bucs quar­ter­back Jameis Win­ston was poised for a break­out cam­paign? Un­known play­ers fight­ing for jobs and of­ten heart­bro­ken dur­ing ros­ter cuts of­ten makes for grip­ping footage. HBO has a way of selling the team it fea­tures as a le­git­i­mate play­off threat. (Some­times, coaches pro­vide that fod­der them­selves. Here’s look­ing at you, Jeff “No 7-9 B.S.” Fisher, with the 2016 Rams ... who wound up 4-12.)

Browns gen­eral man­ager John Dorsey, who kept his de­ci­sion to se­lect May­field se­cret un­til the day be­fore the draft, ad­mit­ted re­luc­tance that his team will be forced to open its fa­cil­ity and prac­tices to HBO’s cam­eras. But the Browns couldn’t opt out. NFL rules only ex­empt teams that have a first-year head coach, have made the play­offs in the past two sea­sons or have been on Hard Knocks in the last 10 years from par­tic­i­pat­ing. The Browns were one of six teams (along with the Bron­cos, 49ers, Ravens, Charg­ers, Red­skins) who could not say no this year.

So all the Browns can do is em­brace what should be some of the first pos­i­tive ex­po­sure they’ve re­ceived in years.

There will prob­a­bly be break­out stars, such as 2017 No. 1 pick Myles Gar­rett, a de­fen­sive end who is as quirky off the field — he loves di­nosaurs — as he is men­ac­ing on it. There’s wide re­ceiver Josh Gor­don, who re­turned last year af­ter a drug-re­lated sus­pen­sion that lasted more than two sea­sons. There’s Tay­lor, un­der-ap­pre­ci­ated dur­ing his ten­ure in Buf­falo (a team he took to the play­offs in 2017) and likely to be over­shad­owed in Cleve­land. Then there’s May­field, the charis­matic 2017 Heis­man Tro­phy win­ner who was the most po­lar­iz­ing player in col­lege — and pos­si­bly in this draft — be­cause of his brash per­son­al­ity.

The only thing miss­ing will be Joe Thomas, the peren­nial Pro Bowl left tackle who re­tired this year — though ex­pect him to find a way to make at least a few cameos.

By Septem­ber, when the cam­eras stop rolling, HBO will prob­a­bly have us be­liev­ing that the Browns will turn it around — that Gar­rett will col­lect dou­ble-fig­ure sacks, that May­field will be­come the fran­chise quar­ter­back Cleve­land has spent two decades search­ing for and maybe even that Jack­son de­serves an ex­ten­sion.

Who knows? Maybe all that will hap­pen and the Browns will be the rare team to buck the Hard Knocks trend. Or, maybe, this will be an­other mis­take by the lake.

Only five of the 12 teams that have ap­peared made the play­offs. Nei­ther of the last two play­off teams, the 2013 Ben­gals and 2015 Tex­ans, made it out of the wild­card round. None of the last three (Tex­ans, Rams and Buc­ca­neers) im­proved on their pre­vi­ous year’s record

Hue Jack­son hopes to buck a re­cent Hard Knocks trend: Two of the last four coaches whose teams were fea­tured were fired.

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