"Hard Knocks" is about to finally witness hardball.
The NFL revealed Thursday night that its highly popular, Emmy-winning docuseries, which has traditionally followed one team through training camp since the show debuted in 2001, will finally trail a team during the regular season.
"Hard Knocks In Season: The Indianapolis Colts" will debut Wednesday, Nov. 17, on HBO and HBO Max, three days after the Colts host the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 10. It will highlight Indianapolis through the end of the regular season and into the playoffs if the Colts qualify.
"We could not be more thrilled to bring Hard Knocks and the remarkable behind-the-scenes access it provides for the entirety of an NFL season," said NFL Films senior executive Ross Ketover.
"Thanks to HBO, along with the incredible cooperation from the Colts, we are able to deliver a groundbreaking new edition of the series."
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A fresh approach to "Hard Knocks" probably couldn't come at a better time. The reduction of the preseason schedule sapped some drama out of this summer's most recent installment, which featured the Dallas Cowboys. NFL teams have been documented in the regular season before – Amazon's "All or Nothing" followed a club in every season from 2015 to 2019 – but viewers couldn't pass beyond that pigskin rope until months afterward.
Given this fresh opportunity for a near real-time overview of the 2021 Colts, here are six things we'd like NFL Films to track:
Carson, Colts and COVID-19
New Indianapolis quarterback Carson Wentz is among the NFL's most prominent unvaccinated players, and a close contact cost him a week of practice prior to the start of the season while he was trying to return from foot surgery. The Colts have collectively lagged well behind other teams in terms of their willingness to get shots, All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard also among the notable holdouts even as coach Frank Reich and general manager Chris Ballard urge players to get vaccinated.
No way to know now how things will develop over the coming weeks – Wentz said he had not ruled out being vaccinated after returning to the team – nor how the delta variant will have shaped conversation around the pandemic two months hence. And certainly no one wants to see the Colts or any team suffer a viral breakthrough.
But given how the NFL wants to continue educating players and the inherent intrigue of a quarterback – and teammates – resisting that effort, it would be kinda fascinating to see the stricter protocols Wentz and Co. must deal with during the work week ... not to mention hearing more from him and other players (vaccinated or not) and whether their viewpoints evolve.
Producing "Hard Knocks" during the season is going to significantly alter the show's familiar camp rhythm. Though we're unlikely to get much, if any, exposure to X's and O's and the playbook, here's hoping this iteration at least provides macro-level insight of Indy's game preparation and objectives and subsequent understanding into how well they were (or weren't) achieved. Some measure of Monday's post-mortem, especially in serial format, is the type of fly-on-the-wall access any NFL fan craves.
It's rare to get a true appreciation of what so many NFL players endure simply to get onto the field. Four-time Pro Bowl wideout T.Y. Hilton is currently in that bucket, relegated to injured reserve as he recovers from neck surgery. If he's still not back by mid-November, a peek at his daily regimen as he attempts to return might be an eye opener for many casual fans.
Behind the scenes
We're going to get at least nine installments of Colts content ... but NFL Films won't be able to rely on feel-good stories of fringe players – or even those who don't make it – to fill the time. No better opportunity to do a deeper dive on the routines of equipment managers, practice squad players, support staff and more who so often provide the unheralded lifeblood of a football organization.
Behind the bye week scenes
The Colts are off in Week 14, but it seems the show will go on. Be nice to see how NFL players really live it up with a week away as opposed to the random veteran's off day in August. You can bet Wentz will go hunting somewhere. But All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson seems like he'd be a fun guy to follow around, while rookie defensive end Kwity Paye might provide some heartwarming moments given how far he and his family have come from war-torn Liberia.
It just wouldn't be "Hard Knocks" without some kind of offbeat subplot. Enter second-year kicker Rodrigo Blankenship, who has an affinity for LEGO – especially "Star Wars" minifigs. What better way to spend a Tuesday, usually an off day in the NFL, than watching the bespectacled sniper reviewing the latest clone troopers?
Follow USA TODAY Sports' Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.