“Hard Knocks ’16” – The 5th Down UK review


So with the opening weekend of the season now in the books, we can finally reflect on the finale of the pre-season treat, Hard Knocks.

It’s been a long time since the Greatest Show on Turf, and never has there been a franchise so entrenched in mediocrity than the Rams – as soon as owner Stan Kroenke signalled an intent to build a new stadium in Inglewood, the writing was on the wall for the St Louis experiment – the Rams were heading home.

So, the Rams secured the move that several other franchises were coveting, and returned to Los Angeles 22 years after they had quietly left the city in 1994. With the move, they coughed up a kings ransom to the Titans in exchange for the first pick in the 2016 draft – the L.A. Rams would now begin their 2nd life in Southern California with a #1 pick QB under centre… or would they?


So, this brings us up to where this season of Hard Knocks started. The Rams had been an obvious choice from the outset, with the NFL clearly invested heavily in this move to a major untapped market. Despite the Rams mediocrity over the past decade, there were quite a few pro-bowl calibre players on the roster (and a fair share on nut-balls that Hard Knocks always likes to gravitate towards), and Goff would be the icing on the cake.

The series opened with stylised credits, showing Todd Gurley running past the city landmarks (a 20+ mile run if this was filmed without edits); but this highlighted that the city of Los Angeles would be the star of this show just as much as any of the coaches or the players.

As is standard fare with Hard Knocks these days, some characters shined such as Eric Kush (who would eventually be cut and end up starting the season with the Bears) and Strength & Conditioning coach Rock Gullickson; whereas some couldn’t help but annoy – Todd Gurley & Tavon Austin please step forward (or back, out of earshot preferably).

It seemed as the series went on, the producers found the Rams just as bland as fans have, and were forced into following threads like the mermaid loving, dinosaur nay-sayer William Hayes until the point was driven too deep. Yes, he’s a kook, we get it.

Throughout the series we got to see a lot of Head Coach Jeff Fisher; producers seemingly inspired by the coverage of Bruce Arians in Amazons summer hit “All or Nothing”, we got to see the hard and the soft side of the man. While his handling of the Lamarcus Joyner situation in Episode 5 was nicely done, between the crazy new contract he gives Tavon Austin, and the attention his team gives to his warning on golf carts, he ultimately failed to cut the figure of a Head Coach who could take this team to the post-season.

And the fate of the #1 pick, Jared Goff? Well, he was in his civvies this weekend, watching the game. Apparently he’s not yet ready for the big time – the question should really be, are the Rams?

To paraphrase Fisher himself, unfortunately this whole season of Hard Knocks felt like some 7&9 bullsh!t.




The 5th Down UK Fantasy Special

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So the inaugural 5th Down UK Fantasy Football league is up and running!!

10 all star teams are now all drafted up, and this week the combat will begin, as KB and Dubs try and win their own conferences!

From The Bortle Bank, to Ep 6 The Return of the Jordy, the team-name game was reasonably sound, although there was whispers of playing it safe when both Dub Steps (Dubs) and Desperados (KB) enrolled – we can only wait to see whether their team selection and waiver wire activity is a little more edgy!

The teams in each conference play each other twice, and will match up just once with each of their out-of-conference rivals. As it’s the first season of the 5th Down league, it’s a fairly vanilla setup – we drafted in a random snake, without any PPR or IDP tweaks – this is pure and clean family friendly fantasy!!

1st Picking – 5th Down Style

Screen Shot 2016-09-06 at 15.07.32Yes – the very 1st player ever picked in a 5th Down UK fantasy football draft was Matt Ryan.

Matt Ryan?

Yes, Matt Ryan.

Maybe Jack (GM of the plucky INSERT TEAM NAME‘s) knows something we don’t. They always say don’t judge a draft until the playoffs, but Jack is making this rule a little difficult!!

The rest of the 5th Down draft went pretty much as expected, with the big names going quickly – in a 10 team league though, there were still some gems left at the end of the draft – I was pretty chuffed to wait until round 12 for Phillip Rivers, and then get high reward flyers like Tajae Sharpe and Stefon Diggs in the final rounds.

Check out the upcoming Fantasy & Season kick off podcast coming soon – KB and Dubs will be getting some of the GMs from our league on to justify their moves and to brag triumph/cry failure over each weeks results!

You can see our league here: http://5thdownuk.league.fantasy.nfl.com/

PS: Anyone interested in the INSERT TEAM NAME 2nd round pick? Broncos D

“Hard Knocks ’16: Ep2” – The 5th Down UK review


Already I’m asking myself whether NFL Films & HBO have turned over this season of Hard Knocks to the funny folks at Saturday Night Live? As the Rams kick off their pre-season, we see Coach Fisher tackling the big issues; where to stand for the National Anthem, and how to safely get to and from the dorm rooms. We get to meet mermaid fan and dinosaur nay-sayer William Hayes, some robot blockers, and the whole team take remedial swimming lessons complete with bright pink floats.

In seasons gone-by there was always one thing wasn’t lost on the viewers – training camp is hard, tackling is fierce, and roster cuts are brutal. The newly re-located Rams however seem to be having a great time, laughing in the sun and soaking up the fan attention that had eluded them in St. Louis.

I may have only been young when the Rams last played in LA, but the reputation of warriors like the Fearsome Foursome and the legendary back Eric Dickerson mean that there are big shoes to fill now that the team has returned to the Coliseum. Outside of the physically imposing Aaron Donald, it’s not clear whether this current roster has the intensity of their Hall of Fame brethren.


On a lighter note, centers are never big name tickets on any team, but already our favourite Ram is the tank loving Eric Kush, who backs up his Fat-Arm-Friday promise from Episode 1, this time with a little help from his O-line. This is a glimpse of the Hard Knocks we love, but unfortunately it’s a bit lost within an episode that gravitates towards Todd Gurley and Tavon Austin gooning around for the cameras, and the opening pre-season game against the Cowboys.

So far, it seems, that the LA fan base are backing their Rams – the Coliseum was full for the opening night, in stark contrast to their final season there in ’94. This season of Hard Knocks may not have had the greatest starts (neither did the Rams against the Cowboys for that matter!), but we’re hoping it only gets better from here on.

This season of Hard Knocks starts on Sky Sports 2 tonight at 10:30pm. Episode 1 and 2 are available on the NFL Game Pass right now. New episodes go up every Friday.

5th Down UK interviews… Steffan Powell

In the 2nd of our series of interviews with UK NFL fans, we spoke to Steffan Powell; reporter and presenter for Newsbeat, BBC Radio 1, and 1 Xtra.


How did you fall in love with Football?

When I was growing up there was a TV show on Channel 4 every Saturday morning called BLITZ! Presented by the wonderfully sarcastic Gary Imlach. It had highlights of the weeks action and I immediately loved the colourful kits, mascots and helmets. I would have been around 8 or 9 then. The more I watched the more I fell in love with how dramatic the sport is; the big hits, hail mary’s and last gasp victories. Finding Madden (1996 I think was my first) then cemented my love of the sport for ever more.

Who’s your team, and why?

I’ve always been and always will be an Oakland Raiders fan! It all started because my big sister had a Raiders jumper (that I stole and wore myself obviously). 250px-oakland_raiders-svgI also loved the Raiders logo and mascot growing up. It also helped that while in secondary school the team was doing really well! Rich Gannon, Tim Brown, Bill Romanowski and the Woodsons were great to watch! Learning more about the history of the team as well has been fun. It’s cool to follow a team with such a tradition of being mavericks and outsiders. I’ve seen some good times (AFC titles in the early 2000s) and the bad times (Andrew Walter anyone?).

What is your favourite footballing memory?

My favourite footballing memory is not actually NFL related – it’s lifting a national trophy as defensive co-ordinator for the Cardiff University Cobras. But in NFL terms my favourite footballing memory is getting to see the Raiders play in the flesh at Wembley – I’d been following the team for more than 15 years by then so that was pretty cool even if they did get a beatdown!

Who is your favourite player of all time?

Charles Woodson is my favourite player of all time. He was a star when I first really followed and got to know the sport and was a top pro ever since. 800px-charles_woodson_2014_2I also played (I use that term in the loosest sense of the word!) in the secondary for my team, so have always loved safeties and corners! As well as being the top player in two positions and winning the Lombardi trophy, Woodson was class act off the field. Rich Gannon, Rod Woodson and Ray Lewis would also be in the mix for me.

And your favourite player currently playing?

Controversially I might have to opt for a non-Raider here… I adore watching Aaron Rodgers play football. His goofy persona and skill set makes him eminently likeable in my eyes. The way he evades pressure and slings the ball downfield, without being a freak athlete like Cam Newton, is fun to watch. He’s the NFL equivalent of an old sharpshooting cowboy in the wild west making trick shots with his pistol for money.

With the elite quarterbacks either retiring, or in their 30s, who is the next superstar?

This one’s easy! Derek Carr. 800px-derek_carr_2015He’s already an efficient, competent pocket passer and he’s not even scratched the surface of his potential. He makes good decisions and has a big arm. Now with more confidence he’ll start making even more big plays. It helps that he has an ever improving cast of players around him. Watch him blossom into an elite quarterback in the NFL soon. Not that i’m biased of course…

You were a coach at university?

I played corner for the Cardiff University Cobras and captained the team but I blew out my ACL at the start of my 3rd year. jjbciwe7_400x400I loved the game and the guys I played with so much that I hung around and coached. Starting as assistant DB coach and ending up as DC. University teams in the UK are better on the ground than passing so we ran a mean 3-5 defence! In 2011 we won the second tier national title – easily the proudest moment of my football life (we shutout the opposition in the final as well!).

If we get a team in the UK, can you see UK universities starting up their own football programmes?

I think there are around 80 universities in the UK that have football teams at the moment. Obviously they’re no way comparable to US university programmes. I can’t see that changing much either to be honest even with a franchise coming here. University sport in the UK is just not the same as the US because you can become professional at any age. NCAA eligibility rules, and how they work with the NFL, are part of the reason college football is so big in the US. But what it will do is increase the visibility of the sport in the UK which should help those 80 teams get access to better funding and facilities – something I know that lots of them struggle with at times.

What do you think has to happen for us to get a London franchise? Would it have to be an Eastern divisional team?

I don’t think it does. Given it seems the owners don’t want another expansion of the league, to get a London franchise it’ll most likely have to be a relocation. I think therefore that whichever team is most suited to relocate will come here – regardless of which division they’re in.

With that in mind, if we were to get a UK-based team should the draft extend out to this country?

I think it’s good news that international players are now starting to get drafted. However it should only be on merit. If we see that, with a team here, more young people are taking up the sport and are good enough to get drafted then that’s great. The league has tried to artificially place foreign talent into squads before and they didn’t quite make it. Therefore we should wait until the players are good enough.

And finally, if a younger Steffan were to be drafted in the 2016 draft what position would you play?

Corner. They used to call me shutdown Steffan*

*Disclaimer – no-one called me that…

You can follow Steffan on Twitter at @SteffanPowell

5thDown Podcast: Episode 4 – The Knights of Farnham

KB & Dubs turn their attention to the British American Football League and hear the remarkable story of the Farnham Knights, a team who were forced to cease operating in 2012. They speak to the head coach who has brought them back to the top division.

Plus, the guys read out your tweets and what you would call a Las Vegas franchise.

5thDown Podcast: Episode 3 – A Texan Tailgate

KB & Dubs speak to Bengals Special Teams Coordinator Darrin Simmons about their visit to London and what makes a good coach. Also joining the show is former Bills WR Donald Jones III and the illness that shortened his promising career. Plus the guys talk Carson Wentz, Michael Bennett, Marshawn Lynch and the CFL Draft.

5th Down UK interviews… Nat Coombs

In the 1st of our series of interviews with UK NFL fans, we spoke to the host of talkSPORT 2’s all new All American Sports Show, and massive NFL fan, Nat Coombs.

How did you fall in love with Football?

As a kid, watching this remarkable technicolour sport on Channel 4, not understanding any of it, but knowing I completely loved it.

Who’s your team, and why?

The Miami Dolphins… because I’m a sucker for pain, and because as a kid they were all about the offense (Marino, Marx brothers) and always gallant, cavalier losers which appealed.

What is your favourite footballing memory?

So many – covering a game in New Orleans at the Superdome was incredible. The SuperBowls I’ve been involved with have been great for various reasons – and the Wembley games I’ve anchored have been a privilege. Looking out over the stadium and digesting that we’ve got regular season games, looking back and seeing say, Jim Kelly sitting 6 feet from me – pretty special.

Favourite of all time?

The 51-45 Jets/Fins game from the 80’s (O’Brien vs Marino) stands out. And I always remember Chad Johnson scoring, putting on the HOF jacket in celebration, as that was my first ever game.

Who is your favourite player of all time?

It has to be Marino, but I loved Jim Kelly too back in the day. Sucker for the flashy receivers so Carter, Marx brothers, TO, Johnson.

Defensively – the Giants front 7 that included Strahan & Osi (have to give my man props!) was great to watch, and the tape I see of the Bears ’85 Defense is stunning. Love for hardcore players too that give everything – like Hines Ward, Anquan Boldin & JJ Watt.

And your favourite player currently playing?

I think right now it’s AJ Green – electrifying and can’t wait till the Bengals come over to Wembley.

With the elite Quarterbacks either retiring or in their 30’s, who is the next superstar?

12 months ago I would have said Andrew Luck, but there’s an element of doubt. Wilson is arguably there. Cam has to be in the mix – he’ll bounce back.

What do you think has to happen for us to get a London franchise, and would it have to be an Eastern divisional team?

I think it would have to be a relocation as I can’t see the owners voting on adding expansion franchises. It would be very interesting to see how it would play out – because the appeal of say 6 regular season games with different teams if possibly as strong for most fans and of course much easier to action long term.

If we get a team in the UK, can you see UK universities starting up their own football programmes?

Many already have of course, though I doubt we’ll get a college circuit like in the US – mainly because of geography and tradition. Though more and more players will get a shot in the NFL, like Efe Obada has.

And finally, if a young Nat were to be drafted in the 2016 draft, what position would you play?

I had a bit of pace when I was younger, so a low round WR gamble – but these days, let’s just say I was made to be a backup QB!

Each week Nat Coombs and guests round up all the action from across the pond, from the NBA to NFL and MLS to NHL, plus everything in between on the talkSPORT 2’s all new All American Sports Show.

You can find the podcasts on talkSPORT & iTunes: