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‘Hard Knocks’ looks at Rams, Chargers in the age of social distancing

Rams coach Sean McVay stands on the sideline.
Rams coach Sean McVay stands on the sideline during the first half against the Arizona Cardinals at the Coliseum on Dec. 29, 2019.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Even before the coronavirus outbreak reshaped the day-to-day operations of the NFL, forcing the league to enact safety protocols at team facilities and canceling preseason games, Ken Rodgers knew this season of “Hard Knocks” would be an experiment.

Rodgers, vice present at NFL Films and coordinating producer for the Emmy-award-winning show, took on a new challenge. His crew would document two teams — the Rams and Chargers —for the first time in the show’s 15 seasons on HBO

Rodgers, who is entering his 13th season as head of the show, said he and his crew are relying on their experience to push through with the production amid the uncertain landscape.

“We’ve been here before,” Rodgers told The Times. “Obviously it’s under much different circumstances, but we trust our instincts.”

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Tyrod Taylor says he knew the Chargers would draft a quarterback, and he isn’t worrying about losing his starting job to rookie Justin Herbert.

The first of five episodes premiered Tuesday night. It featured a heavy dose of the new reality for the NFL: testing, social distancing and questions.

The drama started quickly, with Chargers coach Anthony Lynn entering a videoconference with players.

Bluntly, he told them he had been infected with COVID-19. He said he couldn’t guarantee the players that they also wouldn’t contract the disease, but the staff would mitigate the risk, like every other NFL squad.

“One team will do this better than the other 31,” Lynn said.

Lynn said he first thought something was strange when he felt body aches and couldn’t get comfortable in his bed. He said he was watching a golf event and saw that a golfer withdrew because of coronavirus, citing the similar symptoms.

That compelled Lynn to get tested, he said. He still doesn’t know how he contracted it. The worst part of the disease, he said, was making him feel like an outcast.

“You’re feeling like, ‘I can’t go here because I can infect this person,’” Lynn said. “All of a sudden, you’re the problem. I’m used to fixing the problem, but now I’m the problem.”

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The biggest approach the Rams made to combating the pandemic was moving most of their facility outside. They erected a 70-yard-long white tent near their field, where they will hold the majority of team meetings. Cameras showed Rams coach Sean McVay and Sophie Harlan, director of football operations, discussing how to configure desks and chairs for the tent early on.

Cameras showed players getting tested, some acting calm while others clinched their faces as the swab entered their noses. The premiere also featured Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey briefly exiting a news conference after being asked questions on a new contract, and Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa signing a five-year, $135-million extension and crying when he thought of how proud he made his family.

‘Hard Knocks’ is attempting to chronicle both the Rams and Chargers. Because of COVID-19 and no preseason games, the HBO show must stretch and tell a broader story.

The Chargers also discussed social justice issues, including kneeling during the national anthem, because of the national reckoning after the death of George Floyd.

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A possible comedic relief character for this season could be Rams cornerback Donte Deayon. The fourth-year player, who weighs 159 pounds, bragged about his workout routine. He walked over to star defensive tackle Aaron Donald and mimicked an Instagram picture he took earlier in the offseason. He also wants an upgrade to his locker, hoping to switch with someone into the primary locker room, which is more dimly lit and has more storage, than the locker he already has.

He called his locker “the projects.”

“Who do I have to race?” Deayon asked a staffer. “Do I have to race him? Do I have to fight him? Do I have to go head up with him? What do I have to do? Let me know.”


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