- Tania Ganguli, ESPN Staff Writer
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HOUSTON -- It can be difficult to find a volunteer for "Hard Knocks."
The NFL is a very secretive world. One word or phrase can give away a play call or a signal to an opponent. It's a sport based on deception and surprising one's opponent and coaches are reluctant to offer too much access -- to anyone.
NFL Films understands that. That's why each Tuesday morning before episodes of "Hard Knocks" air on HBO, the Houston Texans, who did not qualify to decline if selected for the show, will have an opportunity to review the show to remove anything that compromises their competitive advantages.
"There are sometimes phrases or single words in let's say an action montage where it's just a bunch of rapid cuts of yelling and screaming and hitting and punching sleds, and there might be one word in there and it might be 'dogpile,'" NFL Films supervising producer Ken Rodgers said. "And we don't know what that is it's in there, and the coach will say, 'Hey that's one of our audible calls can you take that out,' and we'll do so. Again, our role isn't to help other teams for competitive balance, our goal is a character-driven show that really X's and O's haven't been a big part of this show."
The challenge for NFL Films, which produces the HBO show "Hard Knocks," is to create an entertaining show with behind-the-scenes insight that doesn't put teams at a competitive disadvantage.
"[There's] the level of trust that's been developed by us watching the show as well as the conversations that we've had with respect to their information and knowledge of what's competitively a problem and what's not," Texans general manager Rick Smith said.
Texans coach Bill O'Brien fits the mold of a coach who wants to be extra-careful about what is revealed.
Since he began as the Texans' coach, he has steadily limited the firsthand access local reporters have. Practices, once fully open to local reporters -- though anything seen there was considered off the record -- trended more closely toward the league mandates as the 2014 season progressed. O'Brien even changed the route reporters took to get to the media center to keep them out of the facility's main hallway (things seen in the hallways were considered off the record as well). And, for the first time, the Texans are closing organized team activities except for the league-mandated once-a-week access.
O'Brien is very willing to speak to reporters and he gives great insight on any subject except injuries. He'll talk until we're out of questions, and he's happy to detail his processes. But he likes to limit the chances for reporters to see something he doesn't want them to see, whether they're reporting it or not.
He doesn't want to take any chances.
So how did O'Brien feel about the idea of NFL Films cameras -- five or six manned cameras and eight robotic cameras in coaches' offices -- infiltrating his space? We do know he's been part of an All-Access show before. In 2013, Penn State was the subject of a show called Training Days on ESPN. But of O'Brien's thoughts, we couldn't ask him. The league mandates only one team official speak during OTA access and the Texans chose general manager Rick Smith.
Texans owner Bob McNair was asked about the topic twice during today's news conference.
"Well, we had discussions about it," McNair said. "The main thing is that we're not going to be doing anything that's going to give any of our opponents a competitive advantage and NFL Films understands that. Really that's not what they're trying to represent and present, so that was the main focus of any discussion. I think we're all comfortable with it."