What We Learned about the Cincinnati Bengals from Hard Knocks

The Cincinnati Bengals are undergoing round two in HBO’s popular “Hard Knocks” series this year after previously being featured in 2009. Now four years later, the team runs like a well-oiled machine as its head coach Marin Lewis has been in both series and change for the good has come to his team.

You can’t help but ask, what’s Lewis’ secret to doing the show twice and not appearing to be bothered by the cameras and fanfare?

Lewis recently said of doing the series to ProFootballTalk.com, “I have the ability to know where the camera is if I have to have a conversation that matters. There’s obviously certain things that are personal to us, but you basically forget about the fact — every week when we see the show there are parts that you forget about, as you’re doing your job, there’s stuff you don’t even realize they’d be interested in.”

Regardless if the Bengals are “your team” or not, this reality documentary four-part series has been entertaining to watch this year and you can glean a few things from it regarding this team.

There’s Not A lot of Drama

Sure, there’s position battles and competitions but there’s not a lot of drama. The New York Jets thrive on this and in last season’s feature with the Miami Dolphins new coaching staff and the Chad Ochocinco incident, the Bengals seem a little vanilla.

But it doesn’t mean that it’s been a boring series. The veteran staff doesn’t squabble; offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer and running back coach Hue Jackson have large enough personalities to keep you interested while not stealing the show.

And for Zimmer in the third episode, it appears he’s beloved by some players after receiving two complimentary testimonials from Vontaze Burfict and Adam “Pacman” Jones. How much better can this get for an NFL coach?

The Guys Seem to Like Each Other…

There’s a healthy amount of banter going on during practices and games to keep viewers laughing. The guys generally seem to like each other and there’s no lack of confidence in their abilities.

Whether it’s rookie running back Gio Bernard driving a soccer mom’s minivan, safety Taylor Mays incessant chatter, including his love for his girlfriend, the questions for the team’s Estonian born defensive end rookie Margus Hunt or the ribbing of running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis’ ride to practice from team president Mike Brown on a golf cart that ended with an affectionate knee pat by the player, it’s good old-fashioned fun.

O.k, there was the one incident with safety George Iloka fighting linebacker Jordan Campbell in a special teams workout that didn’t end well for Iloka but that came from the player letting his emotions getting the best of him not necessarily a dislike for his teammate.

Even with its Team Battles

Just like every team during the preseason, the Bengals are not without their position battles. There’s one for the backup quarterback role with the offseason acquisition of laid back John Skelton competing against Bengals four-year veteran Josh Johnson. Skelton appears challenged by Gruden’s West Coast scheme while Johnson struggles with accuracy.

This led to his coach saying in one episode of Johnson that he’s “never seen so many incompletions. His accuracy is just horrible.”

In Week 3, there’s linebacker Aaron Maybin’s dismissal from the team. The beginning of the episode foreshadows this by showing Maybin painting. You just know something bad is going to happen to him.

At the end of the episode after he doesn’t see any playing time in Game 2, the end is near and it episode concludes with the dreaded “you’ve been called to the coach’s office” scene. Maybin and Lewis both handled it very professionally.

And in a final question mark, Mays sees an opportunity open up thanks to Iloka’s injury but can he succeed? He’s an inconsistent player and has been called by Zimmer as “robotic” sometimes thanks to being in his own head too much.

How will he play in this week’s game against the Tennessee Titans?

On a final note, you can probably walk away from Hard Knocks and think yes, the Bengals are a good team. Their defense is solid and its offensive weapons are talented with quarterback Andy Dalton comfortable as the team’s field general. Maybe the bigger questions are can the Bengals again get to the playoffs and how far will they go?


Debbie Baratz

Deb has been writing about the NFL and NCAA football for the last few years. She is a full-time writer and an avid sports fan. Follow her on twitter @ldbar.

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