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NFL camp preview: Bengals drama featured on 'Hard Knocks'

The SportsXchange

CINCINNATI -- Under the constant stare of NFL Films' "Hard Knocks" production crew, the Cincinnati Bengals begin training camp Wednesday and start hitting on the field Thursday in a quest to break their 22-year drought without a playoff win.

"The feedback we got from our experience with Hard Knocks in 2009 was outstanding," coach Marvin Lewis said. "We have some outstanding men, both as players and as people. They've got great charisma to go along with their football skills, and the Hard Knocks treatment allows for both to shine through."

Most of the drama should be on the offense, which has all of its starters back and the addition of tight end Tyler Eifert and running back Giovani Bernard from the first two rounds of the draft.

For the second consecutive offseason, quarterback Andy Dalton worked on his deep ball, but he still is trying to find consistency hitting receivers other than A.J. Green.

Dalton has more weapons, which should come in handy in the red zone where they were inconsistent in scoring touchdowns. The biggest improvement though should be on third down, where the Bengals were one of the league's worst in their conversion rate.

For what it is worth, backup quarterback could be the most interesting battle to watch with Josh Johnson and John Skelton vying for the spot. Johnson has a little bit of an edge because of experience in a West Coast scheme, but Skelton has a strong arm and more experience as a starter after spending three seasons in Arizona.

If the offense is able to find some balance and consistency, it should end a streak of five straight seasons where it was ranked 20th or worse in total offense.

The biggest position battle on offense will be at center. Kyle Cook has been the regular starter the past four seasons, but missed most of last year due to an ankle injury. Trevor Robinson started five games and really helped in the run game in the second half of the year, when the Bengals won seven of their last eight regular-season games. Lewis declared the position open during the Scouting Combine in February.

Right tackle Andre Smith, who signed a three-year, $18 million contract, missed offseason workouts due to personal issues. Lewis said he had been in contact with Smith, but Smith has had issues with his weight throughout his career.

On defense, most starters are set, but there are questions about who might line up where at linebacker. Former Pittsburgh star James Harrison, the team's major signing in free agency, will be one of the outside linebackers. Harrison said during offseason workouts that he could see himself rushing the quarterback more here compared to his days in Pittsburgh.

Rey Maualuga remains the middle linebacker, but he has struggled since moving to the position two years ago. Vontaze Burfict is the more natural fit in the middle, but the coaching staff has been happy with the progress he made at the other outside spot last season.

On special teams, expect to see plenty of different combinations at the return spots. Brandon Tate was re-signed but Bernard was one of the top kick returners in the nation the past two seasons at North Carolina and cornerback Adam Jones was the main punt returner last year.

Jones could face a suspension for a possible violation of the personal conduct policy related to an assault charge outside a Cincinnati bar on June 5. Running back Bernard Scott continues to rehab from ACL injuries and there is a chance he could begin camp on PUP.

This is the second year the Bengals are holding training camp at their home facility. They will have joint workouts with the Atlanta Falcons Aug. 5-6 in Atlanta before the two teams play in the first preseason game. This marks the first time under Lewis that the Bengals go on the road for joint practices.
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