Cincinnati Bengals Players Sure to Catch Our Attention on HBO's 'Hard Knocks'
The new season of HBO's Hard Knocks will begin on Tuesday, August 6 at 10 p.m. ET, and will feature the Cincinnati Bengals for the second time.
This Bengals squad is in no way similar to the 2009 team that was showcased the last time HBO came to town.
Long gone are the divas and larger-than-life personalities, and in their place are mature, driven players vying to secure a roster spot on what figures to be an intense countdown to the announcement of the final 53-man roster.
There will be plenty of talent on display in front of a national audience. Plenty of heated roster battles will be taking place throughout the duration of training camp.
So, who will steal the show this time around for the Bengals?
Let's take a look at a handful of players that will shine once the cameras begin to roll.
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The last time Cincinnati was featured on Hard Knocks, its greatest personality was wide receiver Chad Johnson.
This time around, wide receiver A.J. Green may be the featured player—but not due to his ego.
Green will be ready to show the nation two of his most valuable assets: leadership and humility.
Even though Green is the most widely-known Bengal on the roster, he certainly does not act like it. When the wide receivers line up for drills, he is constantly the first in line to participate.
Green is the definition of a blue-collar player. He is generally one of the first players to show up for practice and is also one of the last to leave.
The Hard Knocks audience will be in for a treat with Green on display.
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One of the unheralded players from the Bengals 2012 training camp was Vontaze Burfict.
Burfict joined the Bengals last year an an undrafted free agent and worked extremely hard to make the football team as a backup linebacker.
He impressed so much that—despite his unfamiliarity with the position—he was called upon to start at the weak-side linebacker position after an injury to Thomas Howard early last season.
Burfict went on to lead the Bengals in tackles in 2012 and is now a staple in the sixth-ranked defense's linebacker corps.
It will be very entertaining to watch Burfict's intensity throughout training camp this year. He will be starting Week 1. However, it is yet to be seen if he will remain on the weak side, or slide over into the middle.
Regardless, Burfict and his occasional mean streak will be fun to watch on Hard Knocks.
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Right tackle Andre Smith will be an intriguing player to watch for an entirely different reason.
Smith was re-signed to a new deal with the Bengals during this year's NFL draft. However, since his reinstatement with the team, he has yet to report to the Bengals' facility.
His absence during OTAs was concerning, but expected. Head coach Marvin Lewis stated that he was dealing with personal problems and needed time away from the team.
At the time, this did not appear to be an issue because the workouts were voluntary.
However, Smith missed the mandatory team minicamp due to these same problems. Lewis could not forgive this indiscretion and he promptly fined Smith near $170,000 for missing these workouts.
Once the cameras begin to roll on Hard Knocks this year, it will be the first time that anyone will see Smith with his Bengals teammates.
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Bengals fans everywhere are ready to see 2012 first-round selection Dre Kirkpatrick in action.
Kirkpatrick dealt with nagging injuries last season and only saw limited action on defense and special teams. Now, with Kirkpatrick relatively healthy, everyone is ready to see what he can bring to the cornerback position.
This will be a great storyline this year because Kirkpatrick will almost act as another rookie during training camp. He missed most of the action last year and will be looking to take in as much as possible to achieve his goal of breaching the starting lineup.
Will he rise to the occasion, or leave Bengals fans puzzled by his selection in the 2012 draft?
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Obviously, one of the most compelling players to watch during Hard Knocks will be quarterback Andy Dalton.
Many are waiting to see if the third-year quarterback has what it takes to elevate his game to a high enough level to take the Bengals deep into the playoffs.
Now that Dalton has a plethora of weapons at his disposal, he does not have any excuses for a poor season. That will all begin during training camp.
Pay close attention to how Dalton reacts to his teammates—he needs to become more of a vocal leader this season. Dalton also needs to get on the same page with the coaching staff—seeing him constantly next to offensive coordinator Jay Gruden will be a good sign.
Finally, Dalton will need to help guide rookie offensive players and help teach them the Bengals system. A great quarterback needs to account for every player on his team—Dalton must show the Hard Knocks audience that he is capable of doing so.
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Cornerback Adam Jones has made headlines for all the wrong reasons so far during the offseason.
Jones has been accused of assaulting a woman at a bar during a dispute. This is not what the Bengals organization wanted to hear at any point due to Jones' troubled past.
As the incumbent slot corner, Jones will be a vital piece in the Bengals defense this season. He was ranked very highly last season at 11 overall out of every NFL cornerback by Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Aside from his solid play at corner, he has been a very reliable return specialist as well.
If Jones winds up missing any significant amount of time due to this accusation, the Bengals defense may feel some strong repercussions.
Watching how Jones handles the pressure of the national spotlight as well as the aforementioned incident will speak volumes about his character.
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Tight end Jermaine Gresham will be very intriguing during the duration of Hard Knocks.
Gresham ended the 2012 season on a very sour note after a dismal performance in the Bengals one-and-done playoff appearance.
Now, with the addition of Tyler Eifert as the Bengals first-round selection in the 2013 NFL draft, it will be interesting to see how Gresham is handling the added pressure.
Coming off of a down year—mostly due to drops and penalties—as well as having a very talented rookie nipping at his heels, Gresham could be rather flustered during training camp.
This will say a lot about Gresham as a football player. If he can rise to the challenge and improve his play as well as guide the rookie along, he could gain a significant amount of confidence heading into the 2013 season.
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Plenty of Bengals fans were rather upset when the announcement of the re-signing of this embattled linebacker made offseason news. However, Rey Maualuga is back in Cincinnati with a chip on his shoulder.
Maualuga has been accused of playing soft and playing scared in the past and looks to shed those labels on national television.
He is being challenged to earn his spot in the starting lineup this season—a spot that will not simply be given to him.
Currently, the Bengals have a great deal of depth and versatility at the linebacker position, and Maualuga must rise to the occasion during the filming of Hard Knocks to re-claim his spot on the defense.
If he cannot, he will be looking at spending some time as a backup on a very stout Cincinnati defense.
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Quite possibly one of the most ferocious linebackers in the league—even at age 35—James Harrison will be a very entertaining addition to the 2013 Hard Knocks as a Bengal.
Harrison is currently slated to start at the strong-side linebacker position, but defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer is known to experiment with players and could use Harrison to blitz from the middle on occasion.
Because of Harrison's transition from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3, he will be shifted around frequently so Zimmer will be able to recognize and utilize his strengths.
It will certainly be very interesting to watch this former Pittsburgh Steeler become a Bengal on national television.
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What would the Bengals on Hard Knocks be without Geno Atkins?
Possibly the most dynamic and fun to watch player on the roster, Atkins will certainly be a great player to keep an eye on throughout training camp.
The best defensive tackle in the league with a nonstop motor should give the interior of the offensive line all that they can handle during the show.
Atkins is the type of player that makes everyone around him strive to get better because of the amount of success he has had due to his strong work ethic.
It will certainly be a treat to have Atkins on the screen terrorizing the offense as he so often does throughout the NFL season.
Rookie Class of 2013
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The Bengals have a great assortment of rookies to groom over the course of training camp this season. Luckily for fans, Hard Knocks will be there to document them during the course of their transition to the NFL.
Eifert will be one big name to watch as he challenges Gresham for playing time at the tight end position. It will also be interesting to see how many times both of these players end up on the field together in a dual-tight end set.
Second-round pick Giovani Bernard will be fun to watch as well. He will be sharing time with incumbent starter BenJarvus Green-Ellis in the backfield. What makes Bernard so intriguing is that he is the first reliable receiving threat out of the backfield that the Bengals have had in a long time.
Sixth-rounder Cobi Hamilton has impressed everyone at the wide receiver position and figures to make the team as the fifth or sixth player at the position. If he can keep up his recent stellar practices, he will be very fun to watch during training camp.
Safety Shawn Williams figures to start the season opposite Reggie Nelson. He may have the most difficult job out of all of these rookies due to the necessity for him to start immediately. He was a natural leader during his days at Georgia—it will be interesting to see if he can keep up those leadership qualities as a rookie in the NFL.
Finally, Margus Hunt will be very enticing to watch during Hard Knocks. He has had an incredible journey from Estonia to the NFL, thus far. He will be a big project player but his development though training camp could showcase the talent of the Bengals defensive line in the near future.