Posted by Matt Clapp | 8/12/2009 05:00:00 AM | Andre Smith, Carson Palmer, Cedric Benson, Chad Ochocinco, Cincinnati Bengals, Dallas Cowboys, Hard Knocks, HBO, Laveranues Coles, Marvin Lewis, NFL, Roy Williams, Tank Johnson
Tonight, the fifth season of HBO's reality series Hard Knocks premieres, featuring the Cincinnati Bengals. The show follows an NFL team(in this case of course the Bengals) throughout training camp, and gives the viewers a better sense of what a team's preparation for an NFL season is all about.
As a huge NFL fan, I love the show. On ESPN and NFL Network you'll see the NFL Films shows displaying similar things, but not in anywhere close to the detail that you'll see on Hard Knocks. That's because the language and so forth is unedited, as it's on HBO. F-bombs are tossed left and right, and you get a better idea of what a day in the life of an NFL player at this time of the year is really like.
But while some of us may enjoy watching some of these players just do drills and work on technique all day, that won't be good enough for an average HBO viewer. Therefore, they need drama, trouble, and intriguing storylines to reach a wider audience. And in that case, what better organization in football for this series than the Bengals?
Here's why I think the Bengals and Hard Knocks are a perfect match(assuming it's handled anything at all like I suggest), which should make for some very entertaining television in the coming weeks:
The Legal Trouble: This is where the Bengals are kings. They've had more arrests in the last few years than Kirstie Alley's had ice cream cake. I've lost count. With Chris Henry, Tank Johnson, Cedric Benson, Leon Hall... well about half of the team, trouble's always right around the corner.
This is what Hard Knocks wants. Last year they had Pacman Jones and Tank Johnson(he's baaaaack!) to cover in Dallas. We got a chance to see how these guys were trying to change as human beings and how the Cowboys were handling their situations.
We'll get to see how the Bengals deal with an incident from one of their players should it strike, and how the players are doing their best to make sure these things don't happen again.
Additionally, these are the kind of guys that might say or do something stupid in front of the cameras! Tank for example, loves to run his mouth.
The Rookie: What might interest fans more than anything else about training camp is how the rookies look, and how they're adapting to the NFL game. It's not just the NFL game, but the daily grind of being able to handle the NFL practices, or in this case training camp, which is even more rigorous. It's a major maturity and mental test, maybe even more than it is a test of physical abilities. If you're in an NFL training camp, in all likelihood the physical abilities are already there.
Hard Knocks realizes all of that and usually chooses a rookie or two to follow closely in the show. Two years ago Hard Knocks focused on wide receiver Bobby Sippio in Kansas City Chiefs camp, and last year tight end Martellus Bennett of the Cowboys. In the case of Sippio, we saw a rookie worried about making the team and having to prove the coaches that he belongs. As for Bennett, we saw an incredibly talented player with immaturity and a unimpressive work ethic making camp extremely difficult for him.
For the Bengals, there is a perfect rookie to cover in offensive tackle Andre Smith. Now I'm not sure if they will(especially since he is currently holding out and rumors are that it could carry into the season), but there's no doubt this is the player they wanted to focus on anyway. That's because Smith is similar to Bennett, in that he's a grade-A talent with a grade-F attitude.
Some even thought Smith would be the #1 overall pick months before this past draft, but he reportedly interviewed horribly at the combine, then disappeared. Additionally, he was well overweight. He had maybe the most question marks of any pick in the first round. So, it would be very interesting to see if he's changed his ways yet in an NFL training camp. But with his holdout going on, it appears he might not even get to show that(and it would also lead to the answer being a big no if he's more concerned about a few bucks than joining his team in camp).
If nothing else, Smith gives Hard Knocks a storyline to follow closely and certainly question the coaches and front office about frequently.
The Injury Recovery: Training camp is the first real chance to see where players that were lost to the previous season due to injury or had surgery in the offseason are in their recovery process. It's particularly of importance, and interest, when it involves the starting quarterback. That's the case for the Bengals, as two-time Pro Bowl quarterback Carson Palmer missed 12 games last year due to a partially torn ligament and tendon in his throwing elbow.
Palmer claims to be 100%, and now he'll have HBO's cameras all over his throws these next few for us to see ourselves. We'll also likely see what he's done in his rehabilitation efforts, and what he continues to do to make sure he'll be in good shape for the upcoming season.
The Rookie/Veteran Position Battle: Every camp is going to have a position battle or two that involves a rookie competing with a veteran for a job. It drives the veterans nuts that some inexperienced kid is trying to take a job they've been doing for years and can make for some great drama. It's something like this that might drive an aging veteran to hang them up.
The Bengals could have multiple battles like this, especially if Andre Smith were to end his holdout soon. But one intriguing such battle is at fullback and features a 29-year-old veteran in Jeremi Johnson, and 25-year-old rookie Fui Vakapuna. Vakapuna, a seventh round pick this year, looked like the starter at the position until the last few days. But, Johnson is back after being out of the league for awhile due to being overweight, and there's no doubt he'll be working his behind off to keep Vakapuna on the bench.
The Newcomer: There were a few noteworthy additions for the Bengals this offseason, such as wide receiver Laveranues Coles, and two players that were previously on the Cowboys in defensive tackle Tank Johnson and safety Roy Williams. All three figure to be huge contributors, but Coles is the one that should generate the most buzz around camp.
It's interesting to see how a player learns a new playbook and adjusts to a new team. It's like being a rookie again for a little bit.
Perfect stuff for Hard Knocks to cover and they'll have a few great choices to do it on from the Bengals.
The Hole To Fill: Wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh and his 294 catches over the last three years going to Seattle is a big loss for the Bengals. Will the 31-year-old Laveranues Coles be able to replace the production? Probably not, but he'll surely try to tell us he will, and Hard Knocks surely wants to follow his efforts to do so.
The Personality: Like him or not, Chad Ochocinco is arguably the most entertaining personality in the NFL today. Even if you don't like #85, you probably are at least interested in seeing what's the latest crazy stuff he's saying.
Additionally, he loves the cameras almost as much as he loves talking trash to opposing cornerbacks. With Terrell Owens having his own reality show these days, this will be Ochocinco's chance to have one of his own in a way. I'd be if he's not the star of the show and doesn't make it worth watching on his own.
The Coaching Struggle: If losing wasn't enough, you know all of the arrests and maturity issues around the organization the last few years drives this coaching staff nuts. What the hell do they have to do to get these players to act like mature adults and stay out of trouble with the law? HBO has to be wondering the same thing and I'd assume will address this with the coaching staff on the show.
The Hunger: Every team is optimistic this time of the year, and when you see what teams like the Atlanta Falcons and Miami Dolphins did in 2008, there's no reason not to be. For this series, I think it's more entertaining to follow one of these teams like the Bengals that can basically go nowhere but up. Their labeled as losers and it drives the organization crazy, so they're hungry to prove the doubters wrong. We get to see how hard they have to work to achieve their goals, and if it does end up happening, it's cool to say you got to pretty much witness their training camp and where the special season all began.
So I think this will be a very interesting season of Hard Knocks and I'd advise you check it out for yourself, especially if you're a football fan. Even if you're not, the potential for drama and the personalities with this Bengals team should make it some quality entertainment.
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