Apparently, a player riding a cart into practice with his owner is the NFL equivalent of a student hanging out with a teacher after school. Rolling with the head honcho is grounds for humiliation if you play football in Cincinnati. It’s simply inadmissible.
So when BenJarvus Green-Ellis showed up for work in the passenger seat next to owner Mike Brown, his teammates and coaches approached the scene with the aplomb of a band of great whites closing in on an unsuspecting tuna. Saving a bit of time and energy may have seemed like a smart move in the short term, but the sarcastic barbs that Green-Ellis received after exiting the vehicle were just the beginning of his troubles.
At a team meeting later in the day, the Law Firm’s exploits were brought back to center stage. Marvin Lewis aired a video of his running back palling around with the man who writes both of their checks, complete with multiple rewinds. The clip even unveiled a risque knee-tap from Green-Ellis to Brown. There wasn’t a straight face in the fully staffed, lecture-sized room when the tape finished rolling.
The whole fiasco was the sort of carefree gift that players could only hope to enjoy on the most relaxed of days. With a solid few weeks before the start of the season (at the time the clip was filmed) and plenty of practice under their belts, the Bengals are no doubt feeling a bit edgy now that the new shine of training camp has worn off. Thankfully, there were plenty of opportunities to blow off a bit of good-natured steam during the monotonous days.
As we break down week three of Hard Knocks, we’ll try to get in our fair share of ribbing as well. And next time you’re riding with your boss, remember-- leave the celebratory touching at home.
Cincinnati's rookie talent show was just another instance of the lighthearted shenanigans mentioned above. A brief look at the production would have been an entertaining sequence in any case, but the first year players seemed to put a good deal of thought behind their acts and put together something that is probably worth watching in its entirety. Skits included a wailing parody of the multiple injuries sustained by wide receivers, (accurate) player and coach look-alikes, and a decidedly feminine day in the life of safety Taylor Mays. This wasn’t an instance where inside jokes ruled the performance- fans that had watched the first two episodes of the show could easily pick up on the humor and laugh along. Arguably, the Oklahoma Drill scene from episode one was more entertaining, but if that is the case, the rookie show holds a very respectable second.
This week’s James Harrison moments (that should have been made into its own segment) were as worthwhile and nonsensical as ever. Harrison focused on shirking cameras at the beginning of the week, ever the model of consistency. Then, suddenly, the cameras were rolling as an acupuncturist pinned the barely-clad linebacker, who appeared completely at ease with the entire situation. Has Harrison finally given up trying to shun HBO’s film crew, or is he perhaps beginning to enjoy their company? Honestly, the answer is probably neither. There is very little rhyme or reason to what number 92 does once he steps off the field, and this is no different. Next week he could end up pulverising every piece of video camera in sight, or he could end up donating his entire year’s salary to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Both scenarios are equally plausible.
In addition to more than half a hundred Bengals, an elephant has been following the team for the entirety of camp, and for multiple years before that. Mike Zimmer finally offered a few words about the checkered legal backgrounds of many of his players. (As in, that was the elephant in the room. It was a reach, but humor me.) Zimmer predictably defended the organization’s legally-challenged personnel and his confidence in troubled members of the team like Adam Jones and Vontaze Burfict. To Zimmer’s credit, Burfict led the team in tackles last season and Jones has kept to himself and displayed a new level of dedication for much of the last three years. As long as Lewis and his brain trust can keep their question marks in check, they’ll continue hauling in productive pieces of the roster at bargain prices. However, the higher the number of potential distractions, the higher the possibility of failure on a grand scale. Count on Lewis to continue playing with fire, as he has done for the last decade.
As expected, Giovani Bernard got plenty of time as the center of attention, relative to what he accomplished throughout the week. A nice preseason performance was the only noteworthy event for Bernard, at least from what was included on the show, but he still managed to secure multiple segments all to himself. These crucial moments included signing memorabilia for fans, talking about his van, and telling his girlfriend that they don’t need various items of furniture in their apartment. All this premature love for Gio has grown boring quicker than Chris Johnson running a 40-yard dash. Next subject, please.
First cuts are always a staple of the training camp experience, and the higher-ups for the Bengals got together toward the end of the hour to discuss those worthy of termination. Among the released was former Bills first rounder Aaron Maybin, a player who portrayed a very composed and likeable demeanor during an earlier solo scene. The coaching staff appeared genuinely distraught about trimming the roster, which hopefully served to comfort the victims of release. Whether on the sideline or on the field, players and coaches want to help each other succeed when all is said and done. Denying a job to players that have worked tirelessly is no doubt a tasking endeavor, but it’s one that the league must endure to maintain the spirit of competition.
Two of the biggest stars from week one have gone missing. Jermaine Gresham has been conspicuously absent for two weeks, and Geno Atkins has only been shown in the presence of a large group during that time. There are plenty of faces around camp to profile, but television is television, and without consistent characters a show isn’t nearly as endearing. If either player is found, send him in HBO’s direction, please. Your help in resolving this matter is much appreciated.
King Of The Jungle: Taylor Mays is clawing his way to prominence at safety, and his efforts this week were good enough to win him the honor of best Bengal. Mays revealed that he had been dating a friend from high school in episode two, and HBO decided to follow up and put the couple on display in an extended segment at Mays’ home. The two played a quiet game of cards and sorted through Mays’ backpack collection, which is very extensive, mind you. Mays has struggled to meet expectations after flaming out as a second round pick of the 49ers and still continues to perform erratically, but thankfully, Tuesday’s inside look made it clear that Mays is more than your typical dumb jock. Rest assured he’ll do just fine if his professional football career is short-lived.
Leading Longshot: Linebacker Jayson Dimanche made the most noise of any player in danger of losing his job, bringing him neck-and-neck with defensive tackle Terrence Stephens for the title of leading longshot. Dimanche, an undrafted rookie out of Southern Illinois, is already drawing comparisons to Vontaze Burfict for the way he has excelled in the preseason despite being completely ignored on draft day. Dimanche also directed the rookie talent show, which earned him plenty of brownie points in the locker room. We’ve got ourselves a two-horse race between Dimanche and Stephens heading into the last two episodes; next week should bring about a definitive longshot-hierarchy.
Episode Grade: A minus: Episode three was easily the funniest so far and came packaged with plenty of on-field action as well. HBO has covered all of its bases thus far, but they’ve lacked truly extraordinary moments. The “wow” factor is hard to come by in reality TV, but if Hard Knocks can gather even a bit of the magic that can be felt on an NFL Sunday, they’ll receive full marks.
Next Week’s Episode-
What To Expect: The Bengals take on America’s Team on Saturday in Dallas. If the team can move to 3-0 on the practice season, disproportionate expectations will continue to mount.
Bold Prediction: Stephens fails to make an appearance, while Dimanche continues to impress the coaches. The “Leading Longshot” battle won’t be one for long in this case, and it’s entirely possible based on the separate roads that both players have taken to enter the conversation. While Stephens has been one of the best personalities when helmets are off, his contributions in live action have paled in comparison to those of Dimanche. Stephens trails Dimanche by six tackles and a sack through two preseason contests, and no amount of vocal prowess can mask that kind of difference.