COMMENTARY | As training camp for the Cincinnati Bengals approaches and HBO and NFL film members descend on Cincinnati, there are a variety of things to watch as the team prepares for the 2013 season.
There are a host of new rookies to keep an eye on, but plenty of familiar faces to track as well. There are some with new contracts such as defensive end Carlos Dunlap, while there are others such as Geno Atkins ready to enter a negotiation period.
Adding to the pressure is the ever-present spotlight of HBO's Hard Knocks. How will the young Bengals fare as they head into a season looking for a third consecutive playoff appearance?
As you can tell, there are plenty of things to keep an eye out for in training camp, but here are the three most important.
Who steps up at wide receiver?
A.J. Green is a known commodity, meaning you're all fully aware he is the best in the NFL outside of a guy named Calvin Johnson.
Across from him there remains a question mark.
Second-year receivers Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones will be looking to fill the spot across from him consistently. How they perform, how the coaching staff reacts to them and where the staff places them will be very telling.
Both Sanu and Jones are versatile enough to play inside or out. Who the coaching staff places where could indicate a vote of confidence going into next season.
How Sanu and Jones perform in their given roles will give fans a good idea of how things will play out once the season kicks off.
Does the deck get shuffled at linebacker?
If you follow the Bengals at all you know the issues middle linebacker Rey Maualuga has faced over the past couple of seasons.
You also know that the team landed undrafted free agent Vontaze Burfict last year and he went on to arguably be the best the Bengals had at the position.
A lesser-known fact is Maualuga was one of the better strong-side linebackers in the NFL during his first two seasons in the league because the Bengals defense would remove him from the field during passing scenarios, which happen to be his biggest weakness.
As of now Maualuga and Burfict hold their positions from a year ago, but if the coaching staff elects to slide Maualuga back to his old role and place Burfict in the middle it could potentially provide a massive upgrade to the unit.
For this to happen, Emmanuel Lamur, who has been impressing so far this offseason, will have to emerge as a legit starter on the weak side. If he does, Burfict will be able to play in the middle rather than on the weak side, which he isn't all that efficient at in the first place.
It also means Maualuga could enter a serious battle with former Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison for the right to start on the strong side.
How does the young roster respond to HBO's presence?
It's easy to pass off the Bengals as a young roster with exceptional maturity. They've shown nothing but maturity in most instances over the past few seasons except for serious performance issues in the spotlight.
With that in mind, it's hard to simply pass off an appearance on Hard Knocks as something that will not have a negative impact.
There's sound leadership in Cincinnati, but the extra cameras could be an issue. We seriously doubt head coach Marvin Lewis would allow that to happen, but the last time the team was on the show he couldn't exactly control it.
Granted, this version of the Bengals does not have a Chad Johnson.
Still, this is something major to watch. Who will perform well under the pressure? Who will crack? Will some players respond even better in positional battles because of the added attention? Or maybe perform worse?
There are a lot of questions to be answered in training camp this year. Hard Knocks will help to answer a lot of them, but it also creates one as well.
Chris Roling is a graduate of Ohio University's E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. His work has appeared on Bleacher Report, Fansided, The Cincinnati Enquirer and more. He is the co-host of a Cincinnati Bengals podcast, @BengalsCentral
You can follow Chris on Twitter @Chris_Roling
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