AFC North: Katie Blackburn
Posted by ESPN.com’s James Walker
HBO’s “Hard Knocks” series continued Wednesday night with its fourth episode on the Cincinnati Bengals.
Here is a recap:
Synopsis: This week’s episode centered on Bengals coach Marvin Lewis. He is in his seventh year in Cincinnati and several of his own players admitted that this is a big season for “The Bossman,” as receiver Chad Ochocinco refers to him. The show details Cincinnati’s history and Lewis’ various struggles, such as making sure the Bengals don’t accept mediocrity and keeping in check all the different personalities. He even calls out Ochocinco for using Twitter, and then yells at the entire team following a preseason loss to the St. Louis Rams.
All in the family: Finally, the show delved into the “family business” of the Bengals and how the team was once run by Paul Brown and passed onto current owner Mike Brown. Another interesting tidbit was that vice president Katie Blackburn worked for the team as early as high school. Blackburn, Mike Brown’s daughter, now has a law degree and is the Bengals’ chief negotiator.
Funny moment No. 1: The entrance for the coaches at Paul Brown Stadium doesn’t work. “The gate is still broke?” Lewis wondered. “Why do I think the gate is still broke?” So Lewis backs up his truck, then drives it around the entrance gate and gets a good laugh out of it.
Funny moment No. 2: With his girlfriend in attendance, Ochocinco offers a tip on how to meet women. The trick, according to Ochocinco, is to tell a woman your cell phone is dead, borrow hers, and then dial your number from the woman’s phone and call or text her later. “That may be some stalker-ish stuff but it helps with the rejection process.” (Thanks, Ocho, but I think I’ll pass on that approach.)
Fullback quandary: It looks like the fullback competition between 2009 draft pick Fui Vakapuna and relative unknown Chris Pressley is heating up. The coaches like Pressley’s blocking ability more and appear to be considering him for a surprise roster spot. Vakapuna is more fluid catching passes out of the backfield, according to the team. Finals roster cuts are Saturday. Could an upset be brewing?
Smith in action: As expected, first-round pick Andre Smith’s contract agreement made it into the most recent episode. Smith ended his 30-day holdout, and owner Mike Brown tells him right away that he’s not in good shape. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported this week that Smith was overweight when he arrived, and your favorite AFC North blogger also reported that Cincinnati inserted a 350-pound “weight clause” into his contract during the regular season. HBO showed the actual sequence where Smith fractured a bone in his foot, and it was really a non-descript play where he was holding his block on Chris Harrington. According to HBO, Smith will be out for at least three weeks.
Why: This was another good episode in what’s been an impressive season of “Hard Knocks,” but I felt this week’s offering was a bit jumbled. The show tried to explain the Bengals’ family-run operation, Lewis’ plight, Smith’s signing, a poor preseason performance, and while still getting in its weekly dose of Ochocinco all in one hour. It jumped back and forth from story to story so fast without going very in-depth on any one topic. But overall it’s pretty clear that Lewis is not pleased with his football team. There are a lot of little things going on with the Bengals right now that Lewis doesn’t like, such as players arriving late to practice and not taking care of the little things in games. Cleaning up the little things is what the preseason is for. But if the Bengals feel they’ve already arrived and carry that attitude into the regular season, it could be a long year.
HBO's "Hard Knocks" series continued Wednesday night with its third episode on the Cincinnati Bengals.
Here is a recap:
Synopsis: The Bengals wrap up the final few days of training camp in Georgetown, Ky., and cap it off with a hilarious rookie talent show. Following camp, Cincinnati travels to play its second preseason game against the New England Patriots, where a surprise kicker emerges in a 7-6 victory.
Ocho's kick: "Hard Knocks" chronicled how Chad Ochocinco became a surprise placekicker against New England. Kicker Shayne Graham (groin) was a no-go before the game and the Bengals actually planned to go for fourth downs and two-point conversions all night until Ochocinco asked "Bossman," aka Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, if he can kick during the game. It turns out Ochocinco's form was great and his extra point was the difference in the contest. Kudos for a game-winning idea from Ochocinco.
Palmer ailing: While getting treatment, Cincinnati's trainer tells a surprised Palmer that his ankle sprain will take "several weeks" to heal. Palmer responds that he heals fast and has more white blood cells than the average human being. (I'm not sure if he was joking or not.) The trainer shrugged and repeated that the team will take its time with the injury. In a shameless plug, the AFC North blog broke a story earlier Wednesday repeating that sentiment that Cincinnati is being extra cautious with Palmer and is pondering resting him for the remainder of the preseason.
America's (rookies) got talent: Perhaps the highlight of episode No. 3 was the rookie talent show. Nothing was off limits as rookies poked fun at Roy Williams' relationship with pop star Kelly Rowland, Andre Smith's 40-yard dash and Dhani Jones' eccentric ways. Even the usually serious Lewis couldn't stop laughing at these skits. I watched the segment three times myself last night on DVR. Funny stuff.
Camp surprise: Rookie free-agent safety Tom Nelson is making plays all over the field and is opening the eyes of Bengals coaches. The plays Nelson is making this year is reminiscent of some of the plays 2008 draft pick Corey Lynch made in last year's camp. But currently Lynch is struggling and Nelson is thriving as both players likely are fighting for one of the team's final roster spots.
More Smith talks: As reported in the media, Smith's agent, Alvin Keels, arrives in Cincinnati to do some down-and-dirty negotiations. Keels goes into an office with Bengals vice president Katie Blackburn and locks the door. "Are we going to get
a deal done today, Katie?" Keels asks. "It's up to you, Alvin," Blackburn responds. The two spend several hours in the room only to emerge with nothing. The pair agree to keep in touch. Bengals owner Mike Brown described the talks to his staff by saying, "We have no reason to think it will be [complete] anytime soon."
RB competition: It appears DeDe Dorsey and Brian Leonard are battling for one running back spot. Leonard is solid but not spectacular, while Dorsey brings a "wow factor" that Cincinnati is looking for behind starter Cedric Benson. Dorsey has shuffled around the NFL, including a prior trip to Cincinnati, because of inconsistencies and injuries. Leonard was a bust for the St. Louis Rams and is trying to prove his worth for another team. In a related note, Leonard faces the Rams Thursday night in a preseason contest.
Why: This was another solid offering. It covered everything well -- from Palmer's ankle rehab to Ochocinco's extra point to Smith's contract negotiations. I'm still waiting for the big Mike Brown showcase episode, but maybe that's a pipe dream. Besides the occasional appearance by Blackburn, we still haven't seen much of the internal workings of Bengals ownership and the dynamics of the Brown family. But the breakdown of players, coaches and personalities have been tremendous, and this week's episode was another great example.
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
HBO's "Hard Knocks" series with the Cincinnati Bengals continued Wednesday night.
Here is a recap of some of the highlights:
Synopsis: This week's episode focused a lot on Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer, who was accurately described as the team's most important player this season. Cincinnati played a mock game and also its first preseason game against the New Orleans Saints. Before the game, Bengal players and coaches were telling each other this was the start of something special. But the exhibition turned out to be a 17-7 win for the Saints. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis wasn't happy afterwards about the team's second-half performance.
QB wisdom: According to Palmer, 60-to-70 percent of what star receiver Chad Ochocinco says is just hot air. Palmer says he tunes out his top target most of the time.
More Ocho: The veteran receiver went out for a rare night on the town during training camp and ended up being harassed by a male fan. Ochocinco handles it well and later responds, "See how boring my life is? All I have is Twitter." The show also focused on his not-so-good diet, which has always included a lot of McDonald's.
Truth and reality: "Hard Knocks" continues to make rookie tight end Chase Coffman a huge goat on the show, which is only part of the story. Coffman is making rookie mistakes, but he's gradually improved as camp has progressed. Yet it seems every one of his mistakes is being profiled in what's framed almost as a running joke. It was pretty funny that the coaching staff came up with a new nickname for Coffman: "Crash dummy."
Far apart: The show ends with a bang as Bengals vice president Katie Blackburn is on the telephone negotiating with Alvin Keels, the agent for first-round pick Andre Smith. With tens of millions of dollars at stake, both sides argue over the Darrius Heyward-Bey deal and how it impacts Smith. Keels wants more than Heyward-Bey, while Blackburn doesn't want to give the No. 6 pick more than the No. 7 pick. It's not looking good.
Why: As expected the show is getting better with each episode. This week's version was very personality based, which is great for Bengals fans and non-Bengals fans alike. Viewers got to know players like Palmer, Chinedum Ndukwe, Chris Henry and Corey Lynch on a more personal level. There were even small details such as how to make a quarterback wristband before game day, which was probably a television first. All and all it was a great job of chronicling the past week in "Bengaldom."
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
HBO's much-anticipated "Hard Knocks" series featuring the Cincinnati Bengals made its debut Wednesday night. Every week the AFC North blog we will break down highlights of the show for ESPN.com readers.
|AP Photo/Al Behrman|
|Chad Ochocinco unveiled his new catchphrase during the first episode of "Hard Knocks."|
Here is a recap of the first episode:
Synopsis: After a 4-11-1 season that Bengals owner Mike Brown deemed "an embarrassment," the team is trying to fight back from the bottom to the top of the NFL. The series starts with the Olympics-style competition that the team held during minicamp, which displayed an attempt to build unity and a willingness to compete. Once arriving in Georgetown, Ky., the Oklahoma drill serves as an early highlight. The injury bug also strikes the tight end position, where starter Reggie Kelly (Achilles) is lost for the season and Ben Utecht suffers a severe concussion.
Next tight end up: Last year, then-rookie tight end Martellus Bennett of the Dallas Cowboys was the "Hard Knocks" goat early in training camp. This season Bengals rookie tight end Chase Coffman filled the same void in the debut episode. The show displayed all of Coffman's early mistakes in camp, such as poor routes and sloppy footwork. Ironically, I detailed many of those same initial struggles during my visit to Georgetown. But Coffman has actually improved since and is challenging for first-team reps.
Funny moment No. 1: In a welcome-to-Bengaldom moment, new safety Roy Williams -- who had spent his entire career in Dallas -- is shocked that players have to pay money to rent televisions for their dorm rooms. "There's no TV?" a startled Williams asked. The prices range from $93 to $266 depending on the size. The Bengals are notorious for their cost-cutting ways and this was yet another example.
Funny moment No. 2: Fullback Jeremi Johnson entered training camp 11 pounds overweight. And with team trainers working with Johnson every day, he somehow gained three additional pounds in the first week. Weight has always been an issue for Johnson since he arrived to Cincinnati in 2003. But lately he's gotten it together and is getting work with the first team.
Brown vs. the media: The Bengals have been a running joke in the media for quite some time and Brown acknowledged that in his address to the team.
"We exposed ourselves to the media, which criticized us and mocked us," the Bengals owner said. "This is a hard business. It can be a tough, bottom-line business where all that matters is did you win or did you lose? Now is the time for us to answer back, and the place for us to answer back is on the playing field. From there, our critics will hear us loud and clear."
The Ocho Show: In somewhat of an upset, entertaining receiver Chad Ochocinco didn't get his own segment until about 40 minutes into the hour-long program. At that time Ochocinco explained one of his favorite sayings: "Child please!"
"Child please is a nice way to say [expletive] you," said Ochocinco, who recommends that everyone try his new catchphrase.
Ochocinco also explains why Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo split up with Jessica Simpson.
"She bought him a $100,000 boat and now her birthday is coming up. That's a lot of pressure," Ochocinco said to laughing teammates. "As an athlete, we got money. But we don't got money like they [entertainers] got money, so pressure caused the breakup."
Spin control: Executive vice president Katie Blackburn displayed a perfect example of the Bengals being able to control the message. Wednesday's episode briefly touched on Cincinnati first-round pick Andre Smith being the lone absentee because of a contract dispute. But instead of being fair to both sides and pointing out Cincinnati's awful track record with rookie holdouts, Blackburn had an open forum.
"It's extremely frustrating," Blackburn said. "You're offering them so much money, and yet for some reason they're saying it's not enough."
Why: I'm intrigued by the potential of this show, but I thought the first episode was just good, not great. It focused mostly on the players, where I believe the most-compelling stories and mystery surrounding the Bengals involves ownership and the family-run business. I want to see more of Mike Brown, who is a polarizing figure in Cincinnati and rarely in the public eye. I want to see more of the Bengals' football operation, which is scant compared to other NFL teams and has been criticized tremendously over the years. Although I cover the Bengals regularly, I'm still eager to learn something new about the organization with its doors completely open this summer. The debut episode failed to accomplish that goal.