Bengals 'Hard Knocks' report: Episode One

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.

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."

Grade: B

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.