ESPN Executing Their Own Version Of "Hard Knocks" With Jets

It seems like ESPN is airing their own version of HBO's "Hard Knocks", manufacturing storylines from Jets training camp that are generating buzz in other sources. And personalities such as Sal Paolantonio are taking viewers - and reporters from competing networks - along for the ride.

When HBO Sports and NFL Films decided that the Miami Dolphins would be featured on this season’s edition of “Hard Knocks,” which officially bows next Tuesday, the response was as lukewarm as you can imagine. Of course, following the eventual signings of former Miami resident Chad Johnson (nee Ochocinco nee Johnson) and first-round draft pick Lauren Tannehill – I beg your pardon, Ryan Tannehill – interest in this year’s “Hard Knocks” may pick up.

Of course, not as much as it would had the New York Jets been profiled for the second straight season. In mid-May, the team turned down an invite to reappear on “Hard Knocks,” despite previously expressing interest in returning to the show – much to the dismay of many football fans.

And especially very much to the dismay of one network.

No, not HBO. ESPN.

Regular viewers have realized how much of a brazen, perceivable lean that the Worldwide Leader has for some popular East Coast teams, especially the Jets. Who could forget the 2010 season in which they went so ga-ga over them – the Jets had three “Monday Night Football” games that year, of which they won only one – they conveniently dropped the ball in reporting that Brett Favre had sent lewd text messages to a former team sideline reporter, Jenn Sterger.

So with the obvious circus atmosphere that would unfold with the acquisition of Tim Tebow from the Denver Broncos, ESPN brass likely decided, “Well, if HBO isn’t going to have the Jets on ‘Hard Knocks’ this year, we’ll have to do it ourselves.”

And not only has the Worldwide Leader already stormed out of the gate on this front, they show no shame in creating artificial Jets training camp storylines – even at the expense of innocent reporters on competing networks.

Such was the case on the very first day of Jets training camp. During their daily “NFL32” program, ESPN presented a four-second clip from a media Q&A with incumbent Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez. The female reporter had started her question with, “Tim…” Following a brief pause of silence, Sanchez shot back, “I’m Mark.” The reporter responded, “I know.”

As Jets beat reporter Ben Shpigel told me, “The reporter began [the] question by saying “Tim,” as in “Tim said,” or something like that. But she kept getting interrupted.”

Despite that, ESPN jumped on the opportunity to present that four-second exchange out of context – and it led to many credible news sources into reporting that a reporter “confused Mark Sanchez with Tim Tebow.”

Thankfully, sites like this one and others were easily able to see into the BS as video of this out-of-context rapport had started to go viral.

As well as networks, such as NFL Network. Notice how little attention they gave this ESPN-ginned-up controversy on their air. Not only was it not mentioned on Thursday’s edition of “NFL Total Access,” Warren Sapp all but laughed off the artifically awkward exchange on Friday’s edition of the program. “They’re calling the starting quarterback Tim already,” Sapp joked, before playfully recreating the conversation.

And I still think the innocent reporter caught in the crossfire of ESPN’s quest for Jets dirt, NFL Network’s Kimberly Jones, should demand an apology from the Worldwide Leader over this manufactured controversy created by the network.

Fast-forward to Saturday – and yet another Jet-oriented rumpus emanating from Bristol.

On the late-morning edition of “SportsCenter,” anchor Sage Steele takes to Twitter and writes, “Hey @TimTebow fans – tune into @SportsCenter right now.” Viewers would witness video of Tebow at Jets training camp – but not just any video of Tebow at Jets training camp: video of Tebow running shirtless in the rain at Jets training camp.

Granted, there were photos being distributed on Twitter earlier in the 11 AM ET hour, but Steele really played the fiddle on this one. Then, about an hour later, she tweets this: “Wow! Guess my little Tebow experiment worked… Mention his name and watch the reaction pour in! [Thanks] for playing! :)”

So ESPN is upping the ante in their off-premium-cable production of “Hard Knocks” by resorting to “experiments”. Lovely. The network realizes, though, that sometimes, experiments backfire.

Meanwhile, NFL Network paid little attention to Tebow’s running the Gene Kelly wildcat formation in Cortland. On Saturday’s edition of “Total Access” (weekend editions of the program are live during the training camp period; otherwise, they’re pre-recorded), not only did they run footage of Tebow’s rain run halfway through the show, leading off the C-block, but it was part of a Jets segment that lasted just one minute. This a day after a Friday edition of “Total Access” that spent nearly half the program discussing the Jets – but that likely had to do with the fact that Scott Hanson was broadcasting live from Jets training camp – and it’s one of 28 training camp trips that he plans to make this summer.

Sunday morning. Nearly 24 hours after their little Tebow “experiment,” ESPN and their resident Doogie Howser doppelganger David Lloyd precede a live report from Jets camp on “SportsCenter” with another run of video of Tebow running in the rain without a shirt.

And ESPN played this up, with an item on the “SportsCenter” rundown bar reading, “Tebow In The Rain.”

“Tim Tebow knows how to fuel the ‘mania,” Lloyd narrates. “Tebow jogging off the practice field alone, shirtless, in the rain yesterday. Not sure why he was alone, shirtless and in the rain, but it’s hard not to notice the whole 251 pounds, the most he’s ever weighed in camp.”

Lloyd then throws it to Sal Paolantonio in Cortland with one request.

“Sal, you’re gonna have to top Tebow shirtless in the rain.”

And all throughout the afternoon, as new live editions of “SportsCenter” run on sister network ESPNews, as ESPN starts their leg of NASCAR Sprint Cup coverage for the year, there are reports of the Worldwide Leader running even more day-old clips of a shirtless, sprinting Tim Tebow – just as they’ve been doing all weekend long – reportedly in slow motion, too.

The “experiment” must be working wonders for them.

Give me a break.

I wonder what ESPN has up its sleeve as Jets training camp rolls on. Will they isolate a clip of Mark Sanchez uttering a profanity during a workout, and append that to footage of Tim Tebow having a spectacular drill? Will they take a positive Tebow quip from an otherwise negative Tebow criticism out of context, and spin that into an artificial quarterback controversy?

And what experiment, if any, does Chris Berman have up his sleeve?

Sit back, because ESPN’s edition of “Hard Knocks” is just getting warmed up.

Paraphrasing one of their own anchors gushing over footage of Tim Tebow running in the rain, ESPN sure knows how to fuel Tebowmania.

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