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Why Browns on 'Hard Knocks'? 'People love rooting for underdogs'

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Stephen A. not a fan of Browns on 'Hard Knocks' (1:56)

Stephen A. Smith doesn't know who would want to watch HBO's "Hard Knocks" when the featured team is the Cleveland Browns. (1:56)

BEREA, Ohio -- The Cleveland Browns are a comeback story, and that's why HBO and NFL Films wanted them on "Hard Knocks" this season.

"We tell our kids that it's not about how you get knocked down, it's how you get back up," vice president of NFL Films Ken Rodgers said Wednesday.

After a winless 2017 season and one win the past two seasons, the Browns have a long way to go to get back up. But it's that element of the story that was appealing to making the Browns the subject of the annual training camp documentary.

"It's an underdog story right now," said Peter Nelson, the executive vice president of HBO Sports. "People love rooting for underdogs."

Rodgers said he had been in contact with the Browns for several months about being on the show, including before the start of free agency and the draft. Though the presence of first overall pick Baker Mayfield may provide a story line, Rodgers said the time seemed right for the Browns before Mayfield was drafted.

As the two spoke about how excited they are to put the Browns on the air, coach Hue Jackson and general manager John Dorsey sat alongside them explaining how they did not believe the show would be a distraction.

In the spring, Dorsey said nothing good could come from being on "Hard Knocks." On Wednesday, he had softened his stance, based on three factors: the strength of character from new veterans in the locker room, the strength of the coaching staff's voice, and what Dorsey called the "quality work done by NFL Films."

"I'm comfortable with where we are," Dorsey said. "I understand the direction of our team is in the right frame of mind. But you know the one thing that I find very appealing is it now gives the fans a chance to see how passionate people are within this organization about the 2018 season."

Jackson has been involved in "Hard Knocks"; he was the offensive coordinator of the Bengals when the team was featured in 2013.

"This is just going to be a tool for all involved," Jackson said. "Another opportunity for people to truly see what we do on an everyday basis and really be able to see the behind-the-scenes work that goes on here. Nothing more, nothing less with our football team."

Jackson said he saw no reason to believe that any focus on Mayfield would add to the quarterback drama that has gone on for so long in Cleveland, especially in training camp.

"Tyrod [Taylor] is our starting quarterback," Jackson said. "Baker's our No. 1 pick. He's our quarterback of the future. I've said that since this happened. I don't think that will change. I want those guys to be exposed for what they do, because I think our fans want to know them and what makes them tick. But at the same time, I don't think it should put any more pressure on what we need to do as a football team about who's playing quarterback for us."

The show will debut on Aug. 7 at 10 p.m. ET, with episodes airing each of the next four Tuesdays. Rodgers said that 400 hours of behind-the-scenes footage is shot for each episode, with 25 producers at NFL Films headquarters reviewing all footage to decide what will be shown.

The Browns do not have any editorial control over storylines or how they are presented. However, Jackson and Dorsey will be able to watch the show in advance to ensure nothing of a competitive nature is revealed.

Jackson wagged his finger at one possible clip being included in the show: That would be when he jumps in Lake Erie on June 1 to fulfill his pledge that he would swim in the lake if the Browns were worse in 2017 than they were in 2016.

Rodgers said the lake jump might be dated by the time the show is produced. Events of camp dictate the storyline, and the show is produced immediately. That means by the time a practice ends, a producer in New Jersey will have already reviewed footage from the beginning of practice.

Because of the focus on immediacy and the live storylines, anything that happens leading up to camp is old news by the time camp starts, Rodgers said.