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'Hard Knocks' Episode 1 recap: Jets take off amid highest of expectations 

It's been nearly 55 years since the New York Jets won Super Bowl III, and it feels as if they've never been as close to winning their second title as they are now.

All eyes were on the stars of the team, most notably quarterback Aaron Rodgers, as Hard Knocks premiered Tuesday night on HBO. There was excitement in the air as cameras captured Rodgers walking onto the practice field for a full minute(!), letting all of the fans soak in the reality of what the team has become -- a young, talented group with a future Hall of Famer now at the helm.

When asked what Rodgers brings to the Jets in one scene from Tuesday night's episode, head coach Robert Saleh said, "He's obviously the best quarterback I've ever had on a team."

So, there is pressure on the team to win. Rodgers is obviously an important piece, but it takes a complete unit to get to the top.

The roster appears to be in good shape, as Hard Knocks featured standout second-year players Garrett Wilson and Sauce Gardner battling in camp. As the saying goes, iron sharpens iron, and Wilson and Gardner are two young blades after winning the 2022 OROY and DROY awards, respectively.

Third-year quarterback Zach Wilson was once a rookie thrown into the fire as a starter with the pressure to be the face of the franchise. Wilson shared in Tuesday's premiere that it wasn't always fun playing that role the past two years.

"Honestly, things kinda felt like they were maybe getting a little bit worse each week and confidence was going down," Wilson said. "So, not always fun."

Wilson has embraced his new role as a backup quarterback with Rodgers' arrival, Saleh said during the episode.

Hard Knocks allowed viewers to see Rodgers mentoring Wilson and other players. Rodgers and other Jets starters didn't play in last week's Hall of Fame game against the Cleveland Browns, but the future Hall of Famer appeared to be fully engaged from the sideline, sporting a headset and relaying tips to Wilson. He even was calling for Wilson to connect with Malik Taylor before one snap, and sure enough, Wilson hit the wide receiver for the longest play of the game, a 57-yard completion.

That's (one of the reasons) why you bring Rodgers onto your team.

Extra points ...

  • Welcome to the 18th season of Hard Knocks. I am back for my second season writing the recaps and sharing my thoughts on every episode until the finale on Sept. 5. New episodes premiere on HBO and HBO Max every Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET. In addition to this weekly piece, the show will be discussed on the Around the NFL Podcast with the heroes during Wednesday editions, as well as on the Hard Knocks Podcast with Dan Hanzus and Colleen Wolfe.
  • One of the best analogies I heard was from Saleh at the beginning of the show while addressing his team in a meeting: "Did you know that the only bird in the world that will attack an eagle is a crow? It's a crow. There will be a whole lot of crows expecting us to fall on our face." The Jets hype certainly has everyone talking.
  • Newcomer Mecole Hardman talks to Rodgers mid-practice about how he watched Rodgers since he was 7 years old. Now, if I'm doing the math correctly here, that means that when Hardman was 7 he was watching Rodgers as a Packers rookie and 10 years old when Rodgers became a starter? Wild when you think about it.
  • From what we've learned so far about the defense, it's doing a lot of pushups because of Rodgers lighting it up in drills. I bet the Jets' defensive players aren't thrilled about the pushups but still happy to have Rodgers on the team.
  • We get to see Gardner's graduation from the University of Cincinnati, fulfilling his promise to his mom to finish out the degree she wanted him to earn. I always respect when players go back to school and love that Gardner got it done after his rookie year.
  • Don't think I could go without mentioning the most dramatic entrance yet for a Hard Knocks cameo. Producers couldn't get enough of show narrator Liev Schreiber's entrance to Jets training camp, which came via helicopter. Arriving in absolute badass style, Schreiber narrates his own landing and meets up with Rodgers, who seems to have been fanboying over Schreiber -- aka the "voice of God" -- for the longest time.
  • The Hall of Fame Game offered up the stage for former Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis, who was enshrined in the Hall over the weekend, to meet Gardner. Rodgers ends up standing next to Gardner at one point during the ceremony and mentions that the young corner could end up being inducted one day.
  • I'm going to include this one last thing because I think it's fun. For a moment during halftime of the HOF game, we see Wilson eating what appears to be an Uncrustable sandwich. Oh, how I am reminded of my younger self. Seems like a strange thing to eat during halftime of an NFL preseason game, but to each their own (strawberry Uncrustables reign supreme).
  • Once again, the Hard Knocks Spotify playlist tradition continues!

FollowBrendan Walkeron Twitter.

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