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Knock, knock: Browns there; team set for HBO's 'Hard Knocks'
By TOM WITHERS
CLEVELAND (AP) Ready or not, the Cleveland Browns are getting their close-up.
Coming off a historic, dismal 0-16 season, the Browns have been chosen to appear on HBO's popular "Hard Knocks" series that gives NFL fans a behind-the-scenes look at training camp.
The Browns have turned down previous opportunities to be on the award-winning series. But with renewed optimism around Cleveland following the recent draft, and the selection of quarterback Baker Mayfield, the team is granting HBO unlimited access to its upcoming camp.
Cleveland is the 13th franchise to participate in "Hard Knocks," which began in 2001 with the Baltimore Ravens. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were featured last summer.
Although they've won only one game the past two seasons under coach Hue Jackson, the Browns see the show as a possibility to highlight some of their younger players and put a positive spin on their rebuild.
And for HBO, Mayfield's quest to win the starting job is just one of several juicy story lines.
"NFL Films has always been exceptional at bringing fans closer to the game and they do an outstanding job with every show they produce, including HBO's Hard Knocks," Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam said. "We have been asked multiple times about being featured on Hard Knocks, and we really felt like it was our turn this year and the timing was right. We want to be great partners in this league, and we also recognize Hard Knocks gives fans a special opportunity to learn more about our team and players."
HBO's cameras are certain to focus on Mayfield, the brash Heisman Trophy winner from Oklahoma the Browns chose over other quarterbacks. Mayfield is expected to back up Tyrod Taylor this season, but their competition could make for the kind compelling TV that has made the series a must-watch for football junkies.
A 30-person film crew will be at the team's training facility in Berea to record more than 2,000 hours of footage for the five-segment series that will debut Aug. 7.
The Browns have some good young players who are not well known outside Cleveland. But "Hard Knocks" will give national exposure to budding stars like defensive end Myles Garrett, Mayfield and safety Jabrill Peppers and give the network a chance to tell the well-documented story of former Pro Bowl wide receiver Josh Gordon, who has missed most of the past three seasons because of drug suspensions.
Mayfield has experience in front of the cameras. He was recently featured in a recent documentary series as he prepared for the draft, and feels the Browns can make "Hard Knocks" a positive experience.
"For me looking at it, and us as a team, I'd say it can be good if you handle it right. I'll just say that," he said on SiriusXM NFL Radio. "If you think about it as a way to get on camera and try to show off and do certain things and handle it the wrong way then that can be very negative, it can be a distraction. But if you use it as a sense of, `OK, I got to block out everything else and just focus on playing ball,' then that can be a great thing for us."
Jackson and Browns defensive coordinator Gregg Williams have both been on "Hard Knocks" - Jackson with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2013 and Williams with the Los Angeles Rams in 2016.
"Being able to bring our fans in so they can get to know our players and our organization in a different way will be a huge positive for us," Jackson said. "I want people to see how much our players and coaches care, how hard they work and how badly they want to win for Cleveland. This will be a great opportunity for our team."
Browns general manager John Dorsey had reservations about the series, but feels the team is equipped to handle the added scrutiny.
"Once we sat down and talked about it as an organization, I feel a lot better and understand why the time is right," said Dorsey, who has been overhauling the team since being hired in December. "Hue and I both feel like this team is in a good place and that we are in the process of building something that will lead to success."
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Updated May 17, 2018