The best part about participating in HBO’s “Hard Knocks” series, said Houston Texans coach Bill O’Brien, is now referring to it in the past tense.
“I’m glad it’s over,” O’Brien said.
The reality documentary series produced by NFL Films and HBO follows an NFL team through training camp. This year it recorded the Texans, who meet the Chiefs in their opening game Sunday at Houston.
The director and crew were easy to work with, O’Brien said, and the idea of the show —taking viewers behind the scenes of a training camp and into the lives of some of the players — has proved popular. This year marked the 10th season since 2001, and the cameras caught the Chiefs in 2007.
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“But I think it’s very difficult,” O’Brien said. “You’re mic-ed up 14 hours a day, you have cameras in your office, cameras following you around and you just try to be yourself and hope people understand that. You just do the best you can to coach your team.”
The series recently showed O’Brien in his office, breaking down film of what is expected to be a superb defense with reigning NFL defensive player of the year J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney, the former overall No. 1 draft pick who missed all but one game as a rookie because of a torn meniscus.
“I just hope Clowney can come through, man,” O’Brien said on the episode that first ran Tuesday. “Ninety (Clowney) and 99 (Watt), you ain’t (freaking) blocking those guys.”
The Texans’ defense includes seven former first-round picks. It brings back a healthy Clowney and added five-time Pro Bowler Vince Wilfork from the Patriots to plug the middle. This to a defense that ranked first in turnovers forced with 34 last season.
The praise was peppered with expletives, and O’Brien had some remorse there.
“I apologize for the swearing and things like that,” he said, “but you’re just trying to coach the team and you can’t worry too much about the cameras.”
The early days were the most difficult, O’Brien said.
“You get used to it after a day or two,” O’Brien said. “Our players really dealt with it very well. It was not a distraction to them.”
There were fun moments as well. The 335-pound Wilfork entered a place-kicking contest with U.S. women’s national team midfielder Carli Lloyd of the National Women’s Soccer League’s Houston Dash. The competition ended in a draw as both made kicks from 25 and 35 yards.
Two years ago, the NFL announced the league will produce a team for the series. The team can volunteer or opt out based on one of three exemptions: a team has appeared on “Hard Knocks” once in the past 10 years; a team has a new head coach; a team made the playoffs in either of the previous two years.
The Chiefs could opt out in 2015 because they made the playoffs two years ago and because of their 2007 appearance. There were nine teams that were eligible to appear on the show this year under the NFL’s criteria: Houston, Washington, Cleveland, the New York Giants, Jacksonville, Tennessee, Minnesota, Tampa Bay and St. Louis.
Early speculation had the Browns, with quarterback Johnny Manziel, as the choice, but the Texans were a more willing participant.