The fourth episode examines the process of forming the Detroit Lions roster

Many people will tell you that cut day is the worst day on the NFL schedule. And the way Lions coach Dan Campbell is captured by “Hard Knocks” cameras in his office, staring silently at the wall with an adjustable depth chart he and general manager Brad Holmes set up earlier in the episode. , subtly captures the agonizing decisions the team had to make to reduce its roster to the mandatory 53 players.

The final cuts, bringing the roster from 80 to the limit of 53 menwas the undercurrent of the fourth episode of the HBO documentary series as Holmes explained the process and Campbell openly discussed pending decisions with his roster at team meetings and in the locker room afterwards. the pre-season final.

Holmes, introduced for the first time by the “Hard Knocks” team, gave an overview of the organization’s collaborative process, which plays an important role in the development of the list.

It starts at staff meetings where Holmes asks position coaches to rank players into their groups. Then come the senior staff of the team, such as John Dorsey and Ray Agnew, who give their opinion on these players. The final say in those meetings rests with the offensive and defensive coordinators, before Holmes and Campbell meet privately for the final judging.

“You’re digesting a lot of different information from a lot of different people,” Holmes said. “All of our assessors are artists and their artwork is on display. I’ve always said the beauty of Scouting is to encourage independent thinking and encourage the art of assessment.”

During a team meeting, Campbell tells the roster that the players battling for the final spots fall into two groups. There are the guys who might not have the most talent, but they do everything well and are reliable. Then there are the guys with a lot of talent who haven’t earned the trust of the coaching staff and their teammates.

It’s clear the coach wants talent to win, but he makes it clear that he’s not afraid to go for the reliable option if the first one doesn’t consistently show up when called upon to play. training or, more importantly, in a game situation.

There’s a sequel in which players gravitate to “Hard Knocks” cameras, though the series’ narratives have become a little forced. Running back Craig Reynolds and wide receiver Kalil Pimpleton are both introduced to the public as on the bubble, but in reality Reynolds has mastered a job well for most of camp, while Pimpleton has always been on the outside. to look inside.

Practically, what these players did in the pre-season finale showcased their stories perfectly. Reynolds was productive and efficient in the contest – despite the comic revelation he had Icy Hot on his genitals during half-time – while Pimpleton dropped a touchdown in the final minutes.

“All you can do is give them a chance to make a play and they either do it or they don’t,” Campbell said from the sidelines. “At least we know now.”

Beyond the roster bubble, the episode did a good job of highlighting two of Detroit’s best players, rookie defensive end Aidan Hutchinson and quarterback Jared Goff.

Hutchinson has been a star of the show since the first episode, following his viral rendition of “Billie Jean” performed in front of his castmates before it aired around the world. But what stood out as the show progressed was the rookie’s emerging confidence and personality after initially trying to keep his nose low and not say much.

Although we’re only getting carefully selected glimpses, Hutchinson already seems to be emerging as a vocal leader, allowing his energy to spill over and fuel his teammates.

As for Goff, who is a “Hard Knocks” veteran having appeared on the show twice earlier in his career, his solid performance at camp is best recognized by the words of his positional coach.

“I’m excited about Jared, really excited about Jared,” Mark Brunell said at a coaching meeting. “He’s doing good things and it’s so important to him. He loves what we do and he loves who he does it with, which is great for a quarterback.”

We also get a glimpse of Goff’s efforts in the community, where he’s partnered with a nonprofit organization working with high school students to design shirts for his clothing line that will fund college scholarships.

One final aspect of the episode worth mentioning is the behind-the-scenes competition between coordinators Aaron Glenn and Ben Johnson.

Glenn, exasperated by his defensive performance throughout camp and especially last week’s player-led practice, passionately challenges his coaches and players to be better. Johnson, the more laid-back of the two, can’t help but laugh at his counterpart’s behavior while stoically welcoming the heightened intensity of defense.

“All I’m going to say is this, (expletive) buckle up,” Johnson warned offensive players. “Know this, they’re going to be looking for blood today. No problem, no problem, we’re good to go. We’ve got enough ammo here.”

This lead to Detroit’s evening practice last week, the longest and most intense training camp. HBO does a good job capturing the session vibe and offensive and defensive successes in this event.

Plus, it’s worth mentioning that Glenn’s group had a great night against the Steelers later in the week. It was especially true of beginnerswho kept the opposition out of the end zone in the first half, at least until the substitutes came and gave up a touchdown in the dying seconds of the second quarter.

Needless to say, Campbell was thrilled.

“Good shit,” the coach said from the sidelines. “I think we have a defense, gentlemen.”

The final episode of this season of “Hard Knocks” airs next Tuesday and will focus on the decisions of the previous week.

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

Charles P. Patton