<
>

Rams insist 'Hard Knocks' won't be distraction, hopeful it helps

For the better part of the past decade, the Los Angeles Rams haven't exactly grown accustomed to being in the spotlight. Sure, they've made plenty of news for various things off the field, but their play on it has often left them far from the bright lights and cameras that go with NFL success.

Occasionally, such as the months after they made Michael Sam the first openly gay player drafted to the NFL in 2014, the Rams worked to ensure that the cameras were not present. They shut down Sam's proposed reality show on the Oprah Winfrey Network.

Now that they're back in Los Angeles, the Rams have no choice but to step out of the shadows. They're embracing the attention that's come with their second foray into the nation's second-largest media market.

When HBO's "Hard Knocks" debuts on Aug. 9, the Rams will be the focus. Gone are concerns about potential distractions. In their place are hopes an appearance on the popular show will yield the positive results that it has for other teams that have followed their television turns with playoff berths and winning seasons, even if there's no real correlation between the two.

"We want this to be the best show to date," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said at a news conference last week. "We want this to be the No. 1. We want to be the best. We want to pave the way for our member clubs that will line up for the opportunity to do this during camp as opposed to some of the things that you hear over time that 'we're not crazy about this.'

"We're excited about this."

It wasn't so long ago that picturing Fisher saying those words would have been best categorized as a long shot. His team had been a candidate to be forced to do the show by the league for most of the seasons since he took over in 2012. Fisher had made it clear it wasn't something he wanted to take on.

But after the team's move was announced in January, the Rams became an obvious choice to do the show. Fisher hit the phones and began calling coaches and players around the league to check their pulse on what it's like. Fisher remains one of the more open coaches in the league as he's one of only a few who allow media to watch practice, but he's also fiercely protective of anything that could be construed as a competitive advantage.

Fisher said he received plenty of assurances the camera crew is barely noticeable after a couple of days.

"They literally just disappear," Fisher said. "The big thing for us and for our players, particularly because we're so young, is we want them to be football players, not actors. So it's not going to be a day-to-day reminder of that, but it is 'Hey, you're trying to make this team and we're putting ourselves in position in a very limited amount of time to get ready for the regular season.'"

As part of the agreement, the Rams get to view episodes before they air, which should allow an opportunity to prevent any internal information from making its way on to the show.

"From my lens, it's going to be the competitive stuff and make sure that people are real," Fisher said. "Nothing ever came up from a competitive standpoint. They spoke highly of the crew, of the guys that were there on a day-to-day basis. They literally just disappear. They become part of the landscape."

"It's usually about 48 hours that [director] Matt [Dissinger] and his crew just sort of blend in and become part of the family," NFL Films coordinating producer Ken Rodgers said. "I think that happens because there are no scripted moments. We're simple documentarians. Whatever happens is what we want to capture."

The Rams wouldn't mind following in the footsteps of some of the teams that have been on the show over the years. Rodgers is quick to rattle off the statistics showing the last six teams to appear had as good or better record than the previous season and four of those six went on to make the playoffs.

"There's a lot of talk out there about what might be perceived as negatives for the show, but anyone who has done it, which is now plenty of people, certainly don't feel that way," Rodgers said. "I think the word is spreading. But we take absolutely zero credit for that. That has nothing to do with being on 'Hard Knocks.' I personally have so much respect for the hard work and decision-making process that goes into winning an NFL football game, NFL Films wouldn't do this show if we thought it would hurt the performance on the field."

Obviously, appearing on a television show won't turn into some magic elixir that breaks the Rams' 11-year playoff drought or even their streak of 12 consecutive non-winning seasons. But for a team that's returning to the Hollywood landscape in need of a breakthrough, the Rams will take any help they can get.