While I was away, the Cincinnati Bengals announced they would be appearing on the HBO training camp series "Hard Knocks." This was a wise decision because it forces a young Bengals team to get used to the national spotlight.
The Bengals have been to the playoffs the past two seasons and should contend for the AFC North title this year. The biggest hump has been when the football world has been watching. Over the past two seasons, Cincinnati has gone 1-4 on national television, which includes two playoff losses at Houston.
Some will argue that all of the cameras will lead to distractions. I see this as a tremendous learning experience for a team trying to take the next step. The Bengals are one of the youngest teams in the league. There are only three projected starters over the age of 30 (linebacker James Harrison, cornerback Terence Newman and offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth) and the average age of the starters is 26.5 years old. While these players don't necessarily need to grow up, this group is mature for its age, there's something to be said for how a 20-person camera crew covering your every move can build a team's mental and emotional preparation for a season of heightened expectations.
Plus, coach Marvin Lewis comes from the school of Hard Knocks. He's been part of the prime-time cable series twice previously, as the Ravens defensive coordinator in 2001 and the Bengals head coach in 2009. Lewis knows what kind of commitment this is, and he wouldn't subject his players to this if they weren't ready for it.
Now, I'm not sure if HBO is going to gain as much from this experience. As ESPN's John Clayton noted, this is a boring team, although in a good way. There's no Chad Ochocinco or Terrell Owens looking to Hollywood for the cameras. The Bengals' best players -- wide receiver A.J. Green and defensive tackle Geno Atkins -- aren't big talkers. The best quotes come from an offensive tackle (Whitworth) and defensive tackle (Domata Peko). And Andy Dalton is a good up-and-coming quarterback but is far from an engaging personality.
The track record for teams participating in Hard Knocks suggests this is more of a positive experience than a negative one. Of the seven teams that have taken part in the HBO series, four have finished with winning records, including three playoff teams.