Tyrod Taylor is not the most important player on the Browns. That title belongs to his understudy, No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield. But make no mistake: Taylor is a major piece of the puzzle as Cleveland attempts to navigate out of the living hell that is permanent Jimmy Fallon punchline status.
In Taylor, the Browns are in possession of something they haven't had in 20 years -- a stable presence behind center. During his years with the Bills, Taylor was smart, dependable and typically productive. He was never a star, but he possesses attributes the Browns have chased for decades at the game's most important position.
So you can understand the dark cloud that hung over the Browns sideline after Taylor landed awkwardly on his left arm in the first quarter of the team's preseason matchup against the Eagles last Thursday. Taylor failed to quickly bounce to his feet (never a good sign) and jogged to his sideline with his left arm dangling by his side (one of the very worst signs). Soon, there would be a trip to the X-ray room to determine the fate of his -- and perhaps the Browns' -- season.
"Hard Knocks" is unable to give us full access to this seldom-seen, unfortunate-but-crucial aspect of the football experience. Cameras are not permitted inside the temporary tent erected along the Browns sideline as Taylor's jacked-up hand is prodded by team medical personnel. The same goes for the eventual trip to the X-ray room. But the quarterback is wired for sound ... and it tells a gripping story.
"Oh my gosh, I can't feel it," Taylor yelps as he sits on the examination table.
Taylor's injury looked bad. If you were only provided with replay footage and the conversation in the tent, you'd be absolutely certain Taylor was on a crash course with injured reserve.
"Is it up in your shoulder?" an unidentified man asks in the tent before Taylor unleashes an unsettling guttural howl. "Owwwwwwwwww! No! It's my hand!"
Seconds later, we see Browns coach Hue Jackson on the sideline, his eyes focused on the field but his mind obviously with his suddenly absent QB1. "How bad is it?" Hue asks Joe Sheehan, the Browns' vice president of player health and development, and it sounds like Hue is asking a question he doesn't want the answer to. "To be determined," Sheehan replies.
If this is the year the Browns finally get on the road back to respectability, they'll need to catch a few breaks along the way. On Thursday night, Cleveland got a break because there was no break. Taylor had dislocated his pinkie and bruised his hand, but had suffered no serious setback. The exhale from FirstEnergy Stadium could scatter docked boats along the Western Basin.
When Taylor emerged from the locker room and told Jackson he was OK, the coach didn't hesitate to re-insert his leader into the game.
Should Taylor have returned to a meaningless preseason contest? Probably not, but perhaps Jackson simply chose not to entertain a reality where his quarterback was not physically up to the task. Baker Mayfield is the key to Cleveland's future, but it's Tyrod Taylor who might ultimately decide the future of the head coach.
You might be wishcasting on the sideline, too.
Extra points ...
-- Back in the premiere, Jackson fended off criticism (and a challenge) from new offensive coordinator Todd Haley, who questioned the Browns' toughness and the staff's apparent willingness to rest players who were nursing minor aches and pains. But Hue, at least in the framing of "Hard Knocks", appears to have come around to Haley's point of view. "We gotta keep pushing these guys through," Jackson says during one practice, sounding a lot different than the guy who swatted down Haley a few weeks earlier. "We ain't gonna be nice to 'em. F--- that. We're going to become a group of tough-minded, physical SOBs. That's what it's gonna take."
Does "Hard Knocks" prompt changes in the mindset and decision-making of the people it covers? The short answer: Probably, yeah.
-- There's a common "Hard Knocks" criticism that, now 13 seasons in, certain beats of the show are too predictable. Coverage of the annual rookie show is one familiar staple of the show, but the Browns put a different twist on the competition this year with pre-taped video segments. Yep, the Browns got bits!
Here's Mayfield (making a hard charge for Hard Knocks XIII MVP honors) doing his best impression of general manager John Dorsey:
And then there's our favorite; wide receiver Blake Jackson's reimagining of Jarvis Landry's fiery speech from Episode 1. I love how the receiver drags his toes while wearing two protective boots. That's elite prop comedy.
-- I can't stop staring at Bob Wylie's belly when he says "Hut."
-- During a FOX pre-production meeting with Troy Aikman and others, Tyrod Taylor introduces himself as "Ty-rod", not "Tuh-rod." Debate settled.
-- Why does it feel like Myles Garrett is a mortal lock to lead the league in sacks this season? Yes, the "Hard Knocks" lens has been known to warp reality (see: 2017 Buccaneers), but Garrett just looked like a man amongst boys against the Eagles.
-- Speaking of the Eagles, linebacker Mychal Kendricks -- the same Mychal Kendricks who made the news for nefarious reasons on Wednesday morning -- had no problem dishing on his old teammates as the Browns prepared for their preseason game against the defending champs. A quick rundown of his honest scouting report:
QB Nick Foles: The quarterback's deep ball has a "teardrop effect." Defensive backs need to be wary of the angle of a deep ball that looks like it's been dropped from the sky.
TE Zach Ertz: "86" is the best receiver on the team, but he doesn't live for the more physical aspects of his position. "He doesn't want any smoke."
OL Halapoulivaati Vaitai: "He doesn't trust his feet at all. You get on him, his confidence will go down." Garrett would soon make Kendricks look smart.
-- Gregg Williams Quote Of The Week: "We look like a f------ drunk falling out of the back of a goddamn pickup truck."
-- The napping trailer is not as sexy or exclusive as the QB RV.
-- "Michael Jackson is Michael Jordan. Chris Brown is LeBron. And Usher is Kobe." This, from linebacker Christian Kirksey, has to be on the short list of the most garbage takes of all time. MJ and MJ is fine, but Prince is clearly LeBron ... and Drake is Kobe.