'We didn't earn it': Episode 2 of Hard Knocks goes behind scenes of Lions' preseason loss

·9 min read

In case the Detroit Lions' preseason loss to the Atlanta Falcons wasn't painful enough, Episode 2 of HBO's "Hard Knocks" lifts the curtain on the atmosphere in the locker room.

From the beginning of the week preparing for the game, to the final moment when the Lions' late Hail Mary attempt fell incomplete, this episode, which debuted Tuesday night, goes into detail with a number of players and storylines.

Welcome to the league, 'Rodrigo'

All camp long, coaches have raved about rookie linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez. Head coach Dan Campbell, defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn and linebackers coach Kelvin Shephard have all separately singled him out as someone who impressed early on.

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Lions linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez (foreground) celebrates with teammates after a tackle on Atlanta Falcons kick returner Avery Williams (35) during the first half of a preseason game Aug.12, 2022 at Ford Field.
Lions linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez (foreground) celebrates with teammates after a tackle on Atlanta Falcons kick returner Avery Williams (35) during the first half of a preseason game Aug.12, 2022 at Ford Field.

Tuesday's episode introduced the sixth-round pick out of Oklahoma State with his new nickname.

"I have not been called Rodrigo before," Rodriguez laughed. "I got here for rookie minicamp, I walked in first meeting and (Glenn) was like ‘hey, I’ve got a name for you’ … Rodrigo.”

"My uncle’s texting me like ‘hey Rodrigo, how’s it going up there?'"

From there, it was all production.

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After a series of plays where he blew up a screen in the backfield, stuffed a run for a loss laid the lumber on a fullback — doing his job, though nobody else was there to clean up the tackle — he received praise from veteran defensive back Tracy Walker saying "hell yeah, Rodrigo."

Even offensive line coach Hank Fraley said, "44 is all over the place."

Later in the film room, Shephard continues to heap praise on Rodriguez. He doesn't say anybody's name, but said that a coach who had been in the building for five years hadn't seen a "stack backer" make some of the plays Rodriguez has made.

"Watch Rodriguez, I’m sick of saying this about a rookie," Shepard barked at he room. "Y'all want me to put him out there first? Because that’s what’s about to happen.

"He’s going to continue to climb the depth chart until somebody decides ‘I’m not going to let this rookie take my job.'"

Time for D'Andre Swift to get hungry

Running backs coach Duce Staley has told the media that  D'Andre Swift is talented, but he needs to get hungry. He even admitted that while injuries are nothing to scoff at, Swift needed to do a better job this season playing when he's feeling a bit banged up.

Jamaal Williams calls out Swift on an agility drill and narrowly beats him, before there's a cut scene to Staley talking in a room full of coaches about his quest to unlock the greatness out of Swift.

Lions quarterback Jared Goff hands off to running back D'Andre Swift who ran for a touchdown during the first half of a preseason game vs. the Falcons on Aug.12, 2022 at Ford Field.
Lions quarterback Jared Goff hands off to running back D'Andre Swift who ran for a touchdown during the first half of a preseason game vs. the Falcons on Aug.12, 2022 at Ford Field.

"I need Swift to believe he’s the best every time he steps on the (expletive) field," he said. "I need him to know when he’s one-on-one, no matter if he’s running a route or running the ball, no one can guard him or tackle him. I want him to go to Dan at halftime and say ‘Coach, I want the ball'.

"The boy is special … I’m gonna get it out of him."

Later as Staley is watching film with the running backs, he shows one of Swift's better runs in practice. He bounces it outside and scampers down the field for a gain of what appears to be 20 yards.

As he's reaching the 10-yard line, it's clear he can't out-run the defender, but instead of attempting a stiff-arm, he lowers his head and absorbs the contact. Staley wanted to see more hunger.

"Listen to me ... you can be the best in this league, you really can," he said. "But what you’ve got to do is this — you got to have that dog mentality, you got to bring that (expletive) out of you.

"Be hungry, be greedy for every (expletive) yard."

Amon-Ra St. Brown's 16 reasons for greatness

The attention then turns to Lions receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, who is candid about the day most consider a dream come true.

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"For me, I would say the draft experience was (expletive)," he said.

St. Brown then goes full Draymond Green by listing each of the 16 wide receivers who were selected before him (No. 112 overall in the fourth round) in the 2021 draft.

Warning: Some strong language in video:

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St. Brown broke the Lions record for most receptions and yards in a rookie season and admitted that "chip on his shoulder" was a big reason why. It also doesn't hurt that he's in incredible shape and has had his own personal trainer since the day he was born.

St. Brown's father, John Brown, has helped him lift weights since he was a boy. John  is certainly qualified to do so as a former two-time Mr. Universe winner.

"You’ve got to train their whole body," his father said. "Kevin Durant and these guys mess their Achilles up; I have a question for guys like KD — when’s the last time you did a calf raise?

"At home, I’m dad. In here, I’m the trainer."

Lions wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown makes a catch against Falcons linebacker Mykal Walker (3) during the first half of a preseason game Aug.12, 2022 at Ford Field.
Lions wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown makes a catch against Falcons linebacker Mykal Walker (3) during the first half of a preseason game Aug.12, 2022 at Ford Field.

St. Brown's work ethic is second to none — it has been since he was a child, according to his father. The story, shared by Free Press sports writer Dave Birkett last year, is recounted: As a kid, St. Brown saw a youngster with great hands who explained he got that way by catching 200 passes from the jugs machine after every practice.

In an effort to be 1% better, St. Brown has since caught 202 every day.

Happy wife, happy life

The family story behind many of the players has been documented through two episodes.

It started with Aidan Hutchinson's family in Episode 1 — they return this week, cheering on the rookie as he made his preseason NFL debut — and moved to St. Brown's father.

Later, it's quarterback David Blough and his wife, Melissa Gonzalez. Last summer, highlights of Blough watching Gonzalez compete for Colombia in the Olympics made the rounds on social media and this time we got to hear from Gonzalez.

Lions quarterback David Blough and his wife, Colombian Olympic track athlete Melissa Gonzalez.
Lions quarterback David Blough and his wife, Colombian Olympic track athlete Melissa Gonzalez.

She explained how she felt supported not just by Blough, but the franchise, as she chased her dream and explained how helpful it is that she and her husband are both athletes and can relate to the daily grind and the struggles that come with it.

There's video of her training at Oak Park High School as she talked about how the 2024 Olympics in Paris are now the next major milestone. Blough marveled at her athleticism.

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"If I was as fast as her," he began, "we’d have a lot of money."

Preseason highlights

The preseason game against the Falcons wrapped up the episode.

"For some of your this is preseason, for some of you, this determines your (expletive) season," Staley yelled in the locker room. "If you ain’t down to fight for the man next to you, stay your ass in the locker room and when the true warriors walk out, you can go the (expletive) home!"

On the first drive of the game, the Lions marched down the field. Still, Staley wasn't fully content with Swift's execution. Campbell said he was "tip-toeing" as he hit the hole while Staley felt he wasn't being patient — particularly on one run that went for a small gain when the running backs coach felt it could've been a home run.

"Stay inside," Staley said to Swift after calling him over in the middle of the drive. "If you do that's a touchdown."

Swift would later score a touchdown after bouncing a run outside.

The attention then turns to Hutchinson who said he might "pee my pants" before his first action. The rookie made the first tackle of the game before recording a tackle for loss on the second snap — enough to almost move his mom to tears.

After some highlights of Rodriguez, it's a cut scene to the end of the game: Lions have the ball up by three with 3:50 left when Campbell said, "let's (expletive) finish this thing."

Blough would fumble just before there were two minutes left, rookie defensive back Chase Lucas couldn't secure what would've been a game-winning pick and on fourth-and-9, the Falcons score the go-ahead touchdown.

Even though Jared Goff told Blough to forget about it and move on, the heartbreak on the sideline was palpable. The Lions lost, 27-23.

"Look that’s frustrating, because you want to win that game — we should’ve won that game, but we didn’t earn it,' Campbell said. "You guys know that, we didn’t earn it. We did some good things early, real good things but you’re going to see, this is this league — when things don’t go right, it’s probably your own fault.

"We got to start doing the little (expletive) right. We’ve got to trust our teammates, man. We had control of that game and nut-cutting time, high-pressure, some (expletive) happened the wrong way for us. Those are the things we look at, that’s what I look at."

Contact Tony Garcia at apgarcia@freepress.com. Follow him on twitter at @realtonygarcia.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Hard Knocks with the Lions: Top moments from second episode