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'Hard Knocks' Episode 5 recap: Jets ready to 'fly together' in 2023 season

The New York Jets are set to take flight for the 2023 NFL season.

Their destination? Well, it's more of a prospective scene, with the Jets ultimately hoisting the Lombardi Trophy together as a unified team -- a brotherhood of men that was tested through the trials and tribulations the offseason had to offer.

"This game, I f------ love to my f------ soul," defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich says as he addresses the defense in the season finale of Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the New York Jets. "But the best f------ part about it is the relationships that you build within it, man. This group will not be intact ever again. But we were for a good period of time, and because of that, we are f------ brothers."

In the harsh reality of the NFL, there comes a point where some players are not chosen and are left trying to find a new home, leaving their football-made brothers behind.

Rookie wide receiver Jason Brownlee is the first to walk the Jets' long hallway toward judgment. As he enters a room with head coach Robert Saleh and general manager Joe Douglas, Brownlee maintains a nervous look on his face. As an undrafted rookie, the odds are mightily stacked against him. He's a long shot to make the final roster. But Brownlee has enjoyed a tremendous camp and has proven his worth, setting himself apart from other receivers. Frowns turn to smiles as Douglas announces Brownlee has made the 53-man roster.

Brownlee is followed by his closest friend on the team, wide receiver Xavier Gipson, who receives the same treatment. Gipson has impressed the coaches just as much and receives the word he will be staying with the team.

"I'm really proud of both those guys," quarterback Aaron Rodgers says. "Those are the guys you pull for. Didn't get big signing bonuses. Had disappointment on draft day. But came in with a plan, with purpose -- and just the continual growth every single week that we saw from those guys was spectacular."

The young receivers are ready to continue working and helping to better each other throughout the journey. But for now, a brotherly hug to celebrate the moment.

Tanzel Smart, the veteran defensive lineman, gets word that he will not make New York's final roster. Instead, he has been given the chance to return as a practice squad player following initial cuts. Smart graciously accepts the offer and is retained by the Jets.

"It's a blessing to be back with y'all boys," Smart exclaims, breaking down a huddle in practice.

Running back Israel Abanikanda sits in a family circle back at home in Brooklyn, New York, and shares the story of his parents sacrificing everything to come live in America. We hear that Abanikanda's father, originally from Nigeria, traveled to America alone. Soon after, Abanikanda's mother (pregnant at the time) flew over to start a new life. Abanikanda shares that he wants to give back to his family for all the effort that was put into giving him the best life possible.

"That's what I want to do for them is sacrifice," Abanikanda says.

Abanikanda, another player who made the Jets' 53-man roster, now has the chance to live out his dream: providing for his family by playing football.

Like a musical on Broadway, the curtain sets on this Hard Knocks tale. The finale comes to a close with the Black Pumas singing More Than a Love Song. The lyrics, "fly together, fly together" repeat in the background behind Saleh, who's posing a final question to his team.

"What do we do now?" Coach Saleh asks.

The Jets fly together.

Extra points ...

  • Brownlee and Gipson, both undrafted rookies, became such a strong story in the Jets' offseason. A memorable moment occurs when wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni goes out to find his two young studs after they've each heard the roster news. After spotting each other, the three joyously converge in the hallway and celebrate with a mid-air jump-and-bump. (I don't know -- that's what I'm calling it.)
  • Rodgers has become fascinated with UFOs, which he reveals when telling the story of he and his college roommate apparently becoming witnesses to one. Rodgers says the experience felt like a scene out of the 1996 film Independence Day. It's a little too much conspiracy-theory thinking for me for one day, but I will say Rodgers is an excellent and descriptive storyteller.
  • Another massive moment is dedicated to the Jets taking in MJ: The Musical on Broadway. Defensive end John Franklin-Myers is fresh to the musical scene and has to ask if people will be singing songs. (C'mon, man.) Meanwhile, Solomon Thomas shares that this is his fourth(!) time seeing the same musical. From the excitement in Thomas' face and eagerness to discuss all things musical-related, you get the sense that the D-lineman has a passion for the arts. (We previously saw him making salami-flower art.) Keep a lookout for Thomas in his life after football. We might be seeing a renaissance man unfold right before our very eyes.
  • Following the musical number, wide receiver Randall Cobb goes around telling teammates at practice that Garrett Wilson reminds him of the lead actor from the musical. "Don't he remind you of MJ?" Cobb asks. "The way he moves?" Wilson proceeds to emulate Michael Jackson's toe stand after scoring a touchdown in practice. Somehow I wouldn't be shocked if Wilson added that to his touchdown-celebration carousel.
  • The Hard Knocks crew creatively added its own mini recap of moments shown throughout this season. A few highlights: Quinnen Williams' dominance, Wilson going up against cornerback Sauce Gardner and even Rodgers' welcoming to Jets training camp for the first time.
  • The Hard Knocks Spotify playlist is finalized! Check out the entire list of songs played throughout the show.

Follow Brendan Walker on Twitter.

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