As the Cincinnati Bengals’ training camp approaches its start on July 25, the team looks to prepare itself not only for the rest of the NFL, but the nation too as it welcomes HBO’s “Hard Knocks” for the second time in five seasons.
The only difference between this year’s team and that which premiered in 2009 is the noticeable lack of characters. The 2009 Bengals that hosted “Hard Knocks” saw a line up that constituted more drama than professionalism, with Chad “Ochocinco”, the late Chris Henry, and Tank Johnson. While Chad “Ochocinco” and Johnson provided lackadaisical laughter and the most notable excepts – Johnson building a bed for his daughters, Ochocinco shopping the mall for earrings and talking with head coach Marvin Lewis about investments – there were memorable moments with players struggling for roster spots.
Both fullback Chris Pressley and safety Tom Nelson provided the humbling, heartfelt moments in 2009. Pressley was an undrafted free agent who was a long shot to make the team behind the long-time veteran Jeremi Johnson, and the Bengals’ seventh-round draft pick, Fui Vakapuna. Pressley’s story about his hardships growing up in N.J to becoming a new father and a long shot at making an NFL roster showed a sobering side of the high-octane sport. And then there was Nelson, a college free agent, who was an unassuming, modest player who moved to a different city with his fiancee in hopes to getting a job and making a career.
Both players served as the human-interest storylines throughout training camp with a few others. The HBO and NFL Films’ crews with have their work cut out for them this year finding the heart-felt stories like the Bengals of 2009. One factor that helps with filming is that this year’s training camp will take place in Cincinnati – only the second time in team history – at Paul Brown Stadium which might garner the viewing audience with more clips of players interacting around their community and homes as well, as opposed to the dorm room confines of Georgetown, Kentucky.
Some of this year’s players that might be getting more camera attention than preferred are quarterback Andy Dalton and receiver A.J. Green. It will be interesting to see how the third-year quarterback interacts with his fellow teammates and coaches in a laid back, non-game environment between snaps during training camp and outside camp as well. It will be as equally intriguing to see whether or not the film crews decide to follow Adam Jones through his legal battles since he will be in court Aug. 19 - right in the middle of the preseason - for his assault charge from June 5. Jones’ troubled past and his recent bout could make for an interesting segment when tied into Jones’ accomplishments on the field and as a father.
Another player that could capture some intriguing camera time for Bengals fans is ex-Steeler James Harrison, who was signed this offseason. Harrison, who is in his 11th season, is known for his physical play and hard hits with the Steelers, and coming from a division rival, could make for an interesting interview for Cincinnati fans.
A fun aspect of “Hard Knocks” is of course the influx of rookies that are trying to get up to speed with NFL play. In the Bengals’ previously aired season , third-round pick Chase Coffman (TE) was barraged with criticism by TE’s coach Jonathon Hayes due to his history with Coffman’s father, Paul, as former teammates at Kansas City. This season sees another rookie TE stand out, first-round pick Tyler Eifert, making his Bengals debut. Although there isn’t a family connection, coach Hayes should make for memorable reaming moments with the greenhorn.
One battle that could be the focus of the series is the safety position. Opposite Reggie Nelson at the safety spot is a litany of players vying for the strong safety position with some veterans and the Bengals’ recent third-round pick, Shawn Williams out of Georgia.
Taylor Mays, the USC phenom, hasn’t blossomed at the SS position as some might have hoped but he still remains a physical presence on the field and is in an even heat with George IIoka, who has gotten a lot of praise from coach Lewis and took a good percentage of snaps with the first team during OTA’s.
Although the NFL Film crew may not have the willing players looking for air time, and the comic relief may be few and far between, that is of the Bengals’ least concern as Mike Brown is looking to get the team used to national television and help prepare them for big game situations. This is a good thing considering the second regular season game will be a Monday Night game against Pittsburgh on Sept. 16.
One of the questions that is sure to come up during interviews is the consecutive first-round playoff losses to Houston the last two seasons and how the Bengals will look to overcome the team’s failures during the “big game.” The display that Brown and his team can put on during “Hard Knocks” can very well be a precursor to how the team will answer that question this upcoming season.