What a kickoff to the HBO miniseries, "Hard Knocks". NFL Films continues to show us that they have some of the best in the filmmaking business with their hour-long prologue to the next four weeks of excitement, heartbreak and drama. Though we knew some of the issues that would rear their head in the first episode, it was still extremely fun to watch.
On Wednesday, a Cincy Jungle reader asked our staff what we learned about the Bengals while we watched in our own individual viewing parties from Tuesday night.
Though it's a broad question, it's a good one. In truth, one could answer this in a number of different ways, varying from specific to vague or broad-scoped. Our own Josh Kirkendall went the latter route, discussing the team's "chemistry".
I can't disagree with Mr. Kirkendall there. We have heard throughout the 2012 and 2013 seasons how tight this Bengals locker room is, but we really began to see that last night. Whether it was Andrew Whitworth and Andy Dalton hanging out in offensive coordinator Jay Gruden's office late with his son, or seeing how much camaraderie has been built with the undrafted free agents, these guys just like each other. Not only that--they are producing on the field.
Our own Mickey Mentzer went a little more specific and talked about some of his thoughts on linebacker James Harrison. Obviously, the guy is an intimidating player--he was in Pittsburgh with the Steelers, and he is looking to be that same guy in Cincinnati. Mickey gave you his Harrison and Hard Knocks impressions earlier on Tuesday.
As for myself, I learned a couple of things--both specific and not so specific. First, I think that we all discovered that the personalities with this Bengals team lie with the coaching staff. Unlike the squad that was covered on this show five seasons ago, there aren't the cartoon characters of past locker rooms. And, that's a good thing. You can see why the staff was attracted to Giovani Bernard, as he has one of the more engaging personalities on this team. I don't want to say that the players have "dry" personalities, but they certainly are dwarfed by the true leaders of this team--the coaches.
If defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer was the star of the 2009 stint, running backs coach Hue Jackson was and likely will be the star of this stint. He had the first scene of the show, as he dined with his running back group and talked to them about Training Camp. He jawed with Zimmer and his defensive unit, while showing animated praise for his offensive players in practice. In short, the players and coaches like Jackson and it's easy to see why he got a shot in Oakland with the Raiders.
Zimmer is still the intense comedian who preaches perfection and Gruden sounds and coaches exactly like his older brother--which I take as a big positive. Then there is head coach Marvin Lewis. He is the commander on the field, who shows both patience and moments of aggravation. I loved watching these four coaches on the show.
Secondly, like Mickey, I'm trying to figure out how Harrison is adjusting to this locker room. He was flipping off cameras, yapping at Gruden and at one point was sitting completely separate from every other linebacker in a meeting room. I can't tell if it's an act, if that's actually who he is, or if it's some sort of combination of both. The image of him not sitting with his teammates made me a bit uneasy, but Lewis loves having him on this roster and obviously feels that he won't disrupt the chemistry that Kirkendall mentioned.
Lastly, there were just some other tidbits that I noticed. One of which was the image of the late Chris Henry getting into a shoving match on the sideline with Jackson years ago in his previous job as wide receivers coach. It was kind of a disturbing flashback into some of the dysfunction that plagued this team during those years. Another player that caught my eye was safety George Iloka. Secretly, I've been a bit partial to Taylor Mays, as I have seen first-hand what kind of player he could be while at USC. However, Iloka nailed Bernard during a play and batted away other passes in drills. He has impressive size and range, but he just has to put it together upstairs (sound familiar?). To me, it looks like Iloka wants to start for this team.