HBO's five episodes of "Hard Knocks" began with the New York Jets' escapades at training camp in Cortland, N.Y., showing the gregarious personalities of players like Kris Jenkins and the lighter moments that exist in the daily NFL life.
As the show progressed, however, there was a noticeable arc that displayed a continually expansive examination of difficult decisions that must be made by an NFL organization. Today Jets players reacted to the final episode, which aired Wednesday night.
"Now that it's over," tight end Dustin Keller said, "my first thought is that I'm glad that I wasn't on it as much. It seems like the guys that spent more time on it, it was nerve-wracking for them. With that said, it was exciting. You can see the ups and downs. I was trying to watch it in the mindset of a fan and it's awesome because you get to see what's going on and it's been pretty accurate for the most part."
With discreetly placed NFL Films cameras and crews, it really was difficult to notice Hard Knocks' presence, but there was no denying that they were a fly on the wall for all of the big moments throughout the preseason. For fans who never played football, it was an eye-opening experience to get a glimpse of more than a month in the life of NFL players and coaches.
"We live it so it's cool to give the rest of the world some sort of insight to what we do," defensive lineman Matt Kroul said. "They show the fun stuff and the bad stuff. But they give an insight on Rex Ryan and how he coaches this team."
Kroul, a player who was on the wrong side of the cut line last year, made the team this year. His outstanding play in the fourth preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles was enough for Ryan and the coaching staff to keep him on the roster. Unfortunately, each decision to keep a player means there's one less spot for the rest of the guys in the locker room vying for a job.
"It's a documentary for people to see what we go through here in the NFL, the highs and lows," DE Vernon Gholston said. "In that sense you get a real look at what life is. Guys losing their jobs, things not working out for guys. It's something that people should see and know, but at the same time it's a personal matter for some of those guys and it is tough."
Throughout the final episode, players attempting to earn their way onto the 53-man active roster was the largest focal point. But it was also a view of players scrapping and clawing to even get a chance on the eight-man practice squad. Twenty-two players had to be cut on the weekend after the Philadelphia game, and Hard Knocks captured that entire process on camera. The most jarring aspect was seeing players being brought upstairs by Jets staff to be informed that they were being let go.
"That was kind of tough," said rookie guard Vladimir Ducasse. "I mean, it's a business so you'd probably expect that. At the end of it, we've been interacting with those guys since OTAs and have built some type of relationship, and all a sudden you come in the next day and they're all gone. What can you do?"
Yet as many players left, one Jet made a triumphant return to the show, arriving just in time for the final episode and for the first game of the regular season. All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis, who had held out of training camp, made an appearance in the closing minutes of the show and was seen being greeted by his teammates with open arms.
"It was definitely a good look at that," Keller said. "I know he was kind of nervous. He didn't know how all of us were going to react to him finally coming back after him being gone for so long. All the fans that follow the Jets closely knew he was back, but to see that moment was a sigh of relief for them."