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Sean McVay on ‘Hard Knocks’: ‘We’re going to social distance but we play football?’

The Chargers run a play against the Rams in L.A. on Sept. 23, 2018. The teams will be featured on "Hard Knocks" in August.
(K.C. Alfred / San Diego Union-Tribune)

The Chargers and Rams will make “Hard Knocks” history this summer when they are featured in the first two-team installment of the popular HBO Sports series.

They also will be the first subjects to be highlighted while trying to conduct NFL training camps during a pandemic.

“Is this crazy, coach Lynn?” the Rams’ Sean McVay asked his Chargers counterpart, Anthony Lynn, during a joint media video conference Thursday. “We’re talking about some of this stuff and we’re playing football. I mean, we’re going to social distance but we play football? Hey, this is really hard for me to understand all this. I don’t want to be … I don’t get it. I really don’t.”

Lynn laughed and added: “I know. It’s tough.”

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The participation of the Chargers and Rams was officially announced Thursday, with the first of five episodes set to air Aug. 11.

The Rams were featured in “Hard Knocks” before the 2016 season, their first in Los Angeles after spending the previous 21 years in St. Louis. This will be the Chargers’ first appearance.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell issued an in-depth memo to the 32 teams, outlining the protocols for when players are allowed to return to team facilities.

“We can do this the right way and make it a great show,” Chargers general manager Tom Telesco said. “I think our roster is certainly mature enough to handle this. I know our coaches are. I’m kinda proud to have the country see our players and coaches in this light.”

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NFL training camps are scheduled to open in late July, although there have been talks about moving the date to allow teams more time to prepare given the COVID-19 restrictions.

Senior coordinating producer Ken Rodgers acknowledged the pandemic will make putting together this version of “Hard Knocks” more challenging. He also said how the show handles certain aspects related to COVID-19 — such as players being tested — have not been finalized.

“Our worries about getting the perfect shot or sound bite are always present,” Rodgers said. “That’s who we are. But they exist now really side by side with another concern. That’s taking care of each other and ensuring the safety of those closest to us …

“This year that will be a main focus for us, making sure that we work within all the guidelines present during training camp to keep our players, coaches and staff members safe. So it will still be ‘Hard Knocks,’ but it’ll also be Safe Knocks I guess this year as well.”

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Dr. Anthony Fauci warned that — because of a potential second coronavirus wave in the fall — football likely will have to be played ‘in a bubble,’ if at all, this year.

Along with featuring the teams preparing for their respective seasons, the show also will chronicle their move into SoFi Stadium, the new $5-billion home they will share.

The Rams are scheduled to play the New Orleans Saints in a preseason game Aug. 14, the first event in the stadium. The Chargers are set to play the Dallas Cowboys two days later.

Although the Chargers haven’t appeared on “Hard Knocks,” Lynn has participated as an assistant coach, with the 2010 New York Jets, a team coached by the sometimes boisterous Rex Ryan.

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“Make no mistake,” Lynn joked Thursday. “I’m no Rex Ryan.”

Telesco, who has never been part of “Hard Knocks,” said he discussed the situation and the potential distractions with Lynn when the Chargers were in negotiations to be on the show.

“I’m not going to lie,” Telesco said. “I wasn’t begging for it. But I realize the bigger picture involved here. For me, I love NFL Films, always have. I love the show. The reason why the show is so good is because of the inside access that they have.

“A lot of that inside access is from trust. With every request we’ve gotten from NFL Films leading up to ‘Hard Knocks,’ the answer has always been ‘yes’ because of the trust we have in Films and the great work that they do.”

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Tyrod Taylor is the Chargers’ starting quarterback and he has two backups, but coach Anthony Lynn said Colin Kaepernick fits the team’s scheme.

As with Lynn, McVay will be making his “Hard Knocks” debut as a head coach. As an assistant, he has twice gone against teams being featured on the show in joint practices — the Houston Texans in 2015 and the then-Oakland Raiders last year.

“I’ve always been a fan of the show,” McVay said, before adding with a smile, “I can promise you this: Coach Lynn’s a little bit more charismatic than I am, but we’ll make this fun and entertaining.”


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