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Johnson’s Release Keeps ‘Hard Knocks’ Audience On Toes

LOS ANGELES — True reality television – and let’s be honest, what claims to be real isn’t by any stretch these days – is raw, emotional and has you on the edge of your seat. The second episode of “Hard Knocks” was reality television at its finest. Osi Umenyiora agreed. Chad Johnson, not so much.

When news broke last Saturday evening that Johnson had been arrested following a domestic dispute with his wife of a month, “reality star” Evelyn Lozada, I was shocked. Like most, I didn’t think of Johnson rolled that way. His off-field shenanigans were just that: usually playful, over-the-top, yes, but never brought true harm to anyone. He had never been arrested during his playing career so it wasn’t anything you expected.

The dispute, which depending on who you believe involved a receipt for condoms, and according to the police report, a headbutt, clearly, went too far this time and ultimately it cost him his job and probably his NFL career. At 34, Johnson is years removed from the peak of his playing days and endzone dance routines. He had a nice run with Carson Palmer in Cincinnati but completely lost it in New England last year, and early reports in Miami was he was too slow and didn’t have the hands to compete, despite its lack of wide receiver depth. One scene in Episode Two was telling for me, where the QBs were talking in their meeting about how even they didn’t know what Chad was doing half the time. David Garrard even wondered if he was getting the plays.

The NFL is a production-based league – like all sports – and if you can still perform at a high level people will continue to make excuses for your poor behavior. Johnson couldn’t and so he was let go. It’s sad, yes, because of the circumstances surrounding the release.

When the news broke, I immediately wondered how the producers would handle it. Turns out they went with some buildup talking about the other receivers and how Johnson was struggling, even dropping a sure catch in the Dolphins preseason game that Friday. Then, it happened and Joe Philbin took almost immediate action. In the room, I thought the coach handled it with class. It was obvious Chad was nervous, pensive, bewildered and knew it was coming. In fact, the director of security who talked with Chad said he was freaking out and “he may have an inkling of what’s coming.” But as someone pointed out on Twitter, he never once denied the incident, just that he’d never gotten in trouble before. “I let you down,” he told Philbin, who was not amused from the get-go with Johnson’s behavior. On the phone before the meeting, Philbin told someone, “(Johnson’s) temperament isn’t right for us.”

There was an amazing shot from the locker room of the Dolphins equipment guy cleaning out Johnson’s locker while Les Brown, the former basketball-playing finance man who’s trying to become an NFL tight end, looked on. It was telling because it appeared, almost with certainty, that Brown would be among the first Philbin cut. Alas, it was Johnson, who not only lost his job but his VH1 reality show he was filming with Lozada which was set to premiere in September. It was canceled in wake of the news.

The NFL, the ultimate reality show.

Other things I liked/noticed from this week’s episode: It’s really too bad the Chad Johnson situation overshadowed what started the episode, the tragedy involving Eagles coach Andy Reid and the passing of his son, Garrett. Philbin lost his son within the last year as tragically and knew exactly what Reid was going through. I thought that segment was well done … my man, Les Brown, got a lot of air time this week. He was the first to show up for the meeting and one coach wondered if it was because the HBO was there; “I was in here before the coaches, coach.” Too bad he didn’t see any passes come gametime … Mike Sherman = Dan Campbell = badass … poor David Garrard, who earlier said he was happy and healthy, apparently hurts his knee playing with his kids in the pool. Also, loving the Louis V man purse … It took 32 minutes before we saw Mrs. Tannehill and 39 before the Dolphins cheerleaders made an appearance. Come on, guys … The rookies’ haircuts was easily the funniest part of the first two episodes. Shaving eyebrows makes the bleach blonde hair from earlier look good. And how awesome was Philbin’s reaction to JC’s head penis? “Glad we’re such a first class organization.” Dying for the McKayla Maroney meme with the Philbin NOT IMPRESSED face … Loved the storm time lapse and the helmet in-bump before the preseason game … Offensive line coach Jim Turner’s becoming a quiet star along with Sherman, with the line of the show in reference to showing the cheerleaders’ “Call Me Maybe” video: “I saw the happy faces and the desks were up 6 inches.”

‘Hard Knocks: Miami Dolphins’ Debuts

LOS ANGELES — When it was announced months ago the Miami Dolphins would be featured on this season of HBO’s fantastically produced preseason series “Hard Knocks” my reaction was a common one: not interested. The Dolphins are a .500 team at best with no real star power to carry a show like “Hard Knocks,” have a rookie head coach and play in a division – the AFC East – already loaded with personality and pedigree.

When teams like the Falcons, Buccaneers, Broncos and Texans all reportedly passed on being profiled this year, however, you take what you can get. And what we get is the Dolphins. But when Chad Johnson signed with Miami, the show got 10 times more interesting, even if he was invisible last year with the Patriots and his appeal has grown tired. Then Reggie Bush said he could win the rushing title, and Ryan Tannehill’s wife just happened to look like a bikini model and voila, you have compelling TV each week.

Tuesday, “Hard Knocks” debuted with an sunrise over Miami Beach two months before camp officially opened. Head coach Joe Philbin was addressing his other coaches. The b-roll while he spoke was a construction crew tearing down the existing locker room for new digs before narrator Liev Schreiber chimed in, saying, “the Miami Dolphins are in the process of an overhaul.”

An understatement, yes. And a natural transition as we go from the open to the Dolphins three quarterbacks fighting to become QB1: Matt Moore, David Garrard and Tannehill, in their homes. Moore, shown with his wife and child, played well above average in the final 9 games of last season, leading Miami to a 6-3 record while tossing 15 touchdowns and only 5 interceptions but was almost relegated immediately to third string after the signing of Garrard and the drafting of Tannehill. Garrard sat out of all of 2011 after he underwent back surgery and Tannehill, the gigantic rookie from Texas A&M only has 13 career collegiate starts under his belt and was once a wide receiver.

The biggest issue for the Dolphins as a football team entering this season is who’s going to start at quarterback. They’ve been searching the successor to Dan Marino since he retired in 1999. This offseason, Miami flirted with Matt Flynn before he signed with Seattle and were rumored to be in the Peyton Manning sweepstakes before he signed in Denver. So it’s hard not to feel for Moore when he bluntly states into the camera, “I understand there’s other guys in the running as well,” after he’s asked about the starting job. Clearly, he thinks he’s done enough to be the top guy entering camp. It’s hard to disagree with him.

Of course, the star of the first episode was Johnson, who makes his first appearance by sticking his head into a coaches only meeting and asking for a chair, saying he can’t go home until after training camp. He eventually leaves but it’s apparent he’s reverted back to the old Chad, the one who celebrated vibrantly and without abandon; not the one who failed to learn the Patriots playbook or mesh with, or learn from, the greatest quarterback of all-time. No surprising, his wife, Evelyn Lozada, was on hand for a practice and had on the biggest hoop earrings I’ve ever seen. She then proceeded to tell the story of how Chad and her met; on Twitter. Of course they did.

He did manage to drop a few good one-liners, not to mention show off his enormous pink watch he displayed while playing FIFA with Bush. On his terrible 2011 season: “last year I took a year off to give everybody a chance to catch up.” On how he knew Lozada was the one: “if you pause call of duty for someone, that’s the f—ing one.” On if he still has his once-fantastic speed: “I feel like a cheetah, I feel black.”

One of the coolest segments of any Hard Knocks season is the underdog, that player who really shouldn’t have any shot to make the team, but for one reason or another you root for. This season, that is tight end Les Brown, who hasn’t done anything athletic in two years and played basketball at Westminster College. He is this year’s Danny Woodhead, a finance guy who’s trying to play football. He’s basically Rudy. It’s clear he’s undersized and overmatched against even other rookies. He asks for another chance after getting blown up in drill. Later, in a coaches meeting, someone says Brown is a “complete liability in pass coverage and run blocking.” I’ll put his chances of making the team at 15%.

In addition to the crisp, majestic slo-mo b-roll shots that NFL Films is known for, my favorite aspect of the show are the personnel meetings. It’s that insider, backroom honesty that people love; talking about how’s rising, who’s falling and who flat out can’t play. Seeing the Dolphins meeting makes me wonder what the world class organization’s meetings – Patriots, Steelers, Giants – would be like. How amazing would a “Hard Knocks: Patriots” be?

Other things I noticed/liked from the premiere episode: the biggest fail is that it took 43 minutes to show the Dolphins cheerleaders and we only got one shot of Mrs. Tannehill … David Garrard looked pretty comfortable on water skis … Mike Pouncey getting his hair cut in the kitchen was awesome, though I could’ve done without the nose hairs close up. It was pretty cool, though, him defending Tim Tebow later during a massage … Joe Philbin towered over Chad during their sideline practice chat following Chad’s expletive-laced presser, he’s gotta be at least 6-foot-4. Also, does Philbin look a little like Joe Hagen’s (think “Godfather”) younger brother? … great framing on the shot of Tannehill signing his contract with the photo of Dan Marino in the background … Wiz Kahalifa on the soundtrack = nice.