Salmon or sal-mon? Rookie Johnathan Abram has his 'Hard Knocks' star turn

Hard Knocks debuted in 2019 with rookie Johnathan Abram challenging both coach Jon Gruden and the pronunciation of a well-known fish. Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports

NAPA, Calif. -- The Oakland Raiders are the featured team on this year's HBO series "Hard Knocks." Here are a few highlights from the season premier Tuesday:

  • Rookie safety Johnathan Abram, the third of the Raiders' three first-round draft picks at No. 27 overall out of Mississippi State, got his star turn. First, he showed up to the Napa Valley Marriott in a Mercedes. Then he took a horseback ride with fellow first-rounder Clelin Ferrell and impressed the No. 4 draft pick with his equine acumen. He butted heads with coach Jon Gruden about being too physical in practice and asked quarterback Derek Carr at a dinner how to pronounce a certain fish plate. "How do you say, seared salmon, or seared sal-mon?" Abram asked Carr. "Salmon." Carr said. "Salmon?" Abram said. "Salmon," Carr answered.

    "So why not sal-mon?" Abram wondered.

    "It's salmon," Carr said with a sense of frustration in his voice. "You've got to learn this stuff, bro. You've got some money now. You're going to go to some nice places."

    "And I'd like to say, 'I'd like the seared sal-mon,'" Abram said with a laugh.

    "Good for you," Carr said. "Don't ever change."

    "You know I'm not," Abram shot back. "I'm from the country. We ain't going to say no salmon."

    Gruden, meanwhile got after Abram for being too physical in a shorts and helmet practice and knocking down tight end Luke Willson, who barked, "We'll see when these pads come on, youngster."

    "I don't want to see any f---ing collisions in shorts," Gruden barked.

    The coach later pulled Abram aside.

    "I love the aggressiveness. That's why you're here," Gruden told him. "But not against our own people."

    Abram would not back down, and Gruden told him that if he wants to hit something, he could go on a back field and hit the weights and a sled.

    "I'm just saying, some of that stuff is unnecessary, and you know it," Gruden said. "I'm here to coach you ... and don't want you getting hurt, either."

    When linebackers Vontaze Burfict and Tahir Whitehead came to the rookie's defense, Gruden had an answer.

    "There's a new league forming if you guys want to go knock the s--- out of each other for $800 a week," Gruden said, and the conversation ended.

  • While Antonio Brown has been conspicuous with his absence from camp as he attempts to heal the soles of his feet, the enigmatic receiver of course played a starring role in this episode.

    No new ground was broken, really, other than cameras being with Brown in Miami three days before camp began, when he was already nursing the injury. A camera was with him as he took his report day hot air balloon ride above Wine Country, but of nine practices thus far, he has participated in only one pre-practice walkthrough, and he was limited in another before leaving early due to his feet.

    His children, on the field with him before practice, asked why he isn't on the black team anymore, the Pittsburgh Steelers. Then they asked, "Where's [Ben] Roethlisberger?" his longtime quarterback.

    "He plays with the Steelers," Brown said. "My quarterback is Derek now. We don't play with Roethlisberger no more. We play with the Raiders. We play with Derek Carr."

    Brown practices at one speed -- full -- and all that does is delay the healing process.

    "He's not ready to cut hard," Raiders head athletic trainer H. Rod Martin told Gruden in a staff meeting. "He can't handle the sharp cuts and all that yet. Put him in, he doesn't know how to throttle back, and then the next thing you know, 'Oh, this is bothering me.'"

    Highlights of Brown's truncated practice were shown, with Brown using cornerbacks Gareon Conley and Trayvon Mullen on deep balls, prompting Gruden to say, "When he practices, he elevates everybody. He elevates the defense because they don't want to look bad. And the receivers that are playing with him don't want to look bad."

    Gruden later asked Brown, who was with his personal trainer, Alex Whitehair, "Can't you just turn it up mentally and give the body a break here and just cool it?"

    Apparently not.

  • "Hard Knocks" is known for promoting storylines on undrafted rookies, long shots who tug at the heart strings of viewers. Enter defensive tackle Ronald Ollie, who was a star on the Netflix series "Last Chance U."

    Sure enough, an old scene of his East Mississippi Community College position coach making him roll from end zone to end zone -- a 120-yard journey -- as punishment for slacking was shown. So was Raiders defensive line coach Brentson Buckner imploring Ollie to get his work in and not blow off treatment sessions for his sore left Achilles tendon.

    "I refuse to babysit grown men," Buckner said. Ollie, with a personality as large as his frame, seemed destined to be a star on this series too.

    Alas ...

    "You know what, let's get some of these f---ing guys out of here that don't want to play," Gruden growled to Martin. "If we're not going to listen to the trainer, who are we going to listen to?"

    As fast as Ollie's locker was cleared out, new signee Ethan Westbrooks took it over.

"You know what, let's get some of these f---ing guys out of here that don't want to play. If we're not going to listen to the trainer, who are we going to listen to?" Raiders coach Jon Gruden on "Hard Knocks" just before the team clears out Ronald Ollie's locker
  • Richie Incognito, with an off-the-field rap sheet as long as the list of his on-the-field accomplishments, was also introduced.

    "You've obviously seen, I've had my setbacks, had some dark days," Incognito said at the podium. "But I think when guys get around me, they see something different than what they've seen in the headlines."

    He also saw something he had not witnessed since his college days: the 7-man sled, a staple of the Raiders dating to the John Madden days.

    "Hard Knocks" interspliced a 19-year-old interview with Madden, talking about the sled, with this year's team hitting it.

    "We used to start every practice in the morning hitting the 7-man sled," Madden said. "That was the first thing we'd do. So that would get rid of all hangovers. This is the basis of football. Everyone has to hit this sled at the same time, or it doesn't work."

  • Other observations/thoughts: Raiders owner Mark Davis, addressing the team's annual alumni dinner, said: "The most valuable asset the Raiders have is its alumni ... it's a dysfunctional family, but it's our family." ... There was a fleeting moment dedicated to Raiders receiving great Cliff Branch, who died unexpectedly on Saturday. ... Carr, who rolls his sleeves up for practice and shows off his triceps, was teased by rookie tight end Foster Moreau for oiling up his arms. "Suncreen. Preventative. I'm a dad now," Carr said. ... Celebrity chef Guy Fieri and rapper G-Eazy visited camp. ... A scared Ferrell held hands with Abram as they rode horses. ... Former Raiders receiver James Jones told Brown he and Charles Woodson knew Carr would beat Matt Schaub as a rookie in 2014, calling Carr, "Baby A-Rod," as in Aaron Rodgers.

  • Quote of the show: "Everybody in the NFL has a dream of making it in the NFL. I've got a dream of winning the Super Bowl. I've got a dream of being in the Pro Bowl. I'm really not into dreams anymore. I'm into f---ing nightmares. You guys with me on that? You've got to end somebody's dream. You've got to take their job, you've got to take their heart. Are you guys clear about this NFL s--- now? We're not trying to go to the Peach Bowl. We're not trying to go to the Gator Bowl or the Bluebonnet Bowl. We're trying to go to the Super Bowl." -- Gruden to the team after a practice.