Highlights of the second episode of Hard Knocks

The second episode of the Cincinnati Bengals Hard Knocks series aired Tuesday night, and here are the top five highlights.

Backup battle

It wasn’t the play of backup quarterbacks Josh Johnson and John Skelton that made for great television, it was the coaches’ candid comments about their struggles.

That inside access is why Hard Knocks has been so successful. Fans would never get that kind of insight through traditional media reports. No coach would ever tell a reporter one his players was horrible.

But Marvin Lewis said it about Johnson while watching film.

“I’ve never seen so many incompletions. His accuracy is just horrible.”

After one bad pass, offensive coordinator Jay Gruden told Johnson, “I’m going to start bringing a shot class to practice. You’re driving me to alcoholism.”

Gruden had Johnson for one year in Tampa Bay, so he knows the terminology. John Skelton, on the other hand, is struggling with that, which again is something a coach would never come out and say.

“He’s slow calling the plays, he’s slow getting to the line,” Gruden said of Skelton. “John’s a laid back guy by nature. Sometimes it feels like he’s so nonchalant about things that you just want to kick him in the rear. John needs to be smart to win the job.”

Skelton blamed his struggles with the offense on being new to the roster, but he was signed April 3, just 10 days after Johnson on March 23.

Focusing on the negative was a way to set up their strong performances in the preseason game in Atlanta. It’s just good storytelling. But the better part was hearing the coaches’ unfiltered assessments.

Harrison’s humanity

The series played up Harrison’s gruff nature and displeasure with Hard Knocks in general in the first episode, and it’s likely to be visited again next week after his comments Tuesday about the show.

But Tuesday night we got to see the side of Harrison that his teammates have insisted is there but is rarely seen. When Marvin Lewis called rookie defensive tackle Terrence Stephens to the front of the room to sing, Harrison reacted with surprise and genuine appreciation as soon as he heard the first few a Capella notes to the song “Superstar.”

Stephens not only melted away the scowl from Harrison’s face, he drew rousing applause for the performance. He also was seen earlier in the episode singing “End of the Road” with Marvin Jones and a few other teammates in the hall of the hotel.

Sibling rivalry

It was cool the way the show edited together the clips of Jon Gruden calling plays in Tampa Bay and Jay calling them during camp as they focused on how similar the terminology is to set up their reunion in Atlanta.

With the Bengals opening on Monday Night Football, it gave Jon, who is the color analyst for the ESPN broadcast, to catch up with younger brother Jay. And prior to Jay’s arrival at a production meeting, Jon told a story from their childhood when he knew his athletic career was never going to be what he wanted it to be.

“I would always go out and lift weights, throw balls and run, and he would lay on the couch,” Jon said. Finally I went in there and said ‘You’re nothing.’ And he said ‘Do you want to race? Do you want to race?’ I’m playing quarterback at Dayton. I said ‘Yeah, I’ll race you. Let’s go, lazy ass.’ There was a 1.2 mile run I did every day, must have done it twice a day. He hadn’t run all summer. The backstretch is three-tenths of a mile. We’re even. He took off. He beat me by 500 yards. He stood in the driveway, a sophomore (in high school), and he did the Rocky Balboa thing. I cried. I said I know I’m never going to be good enough. He went on to be all-state, went to Louisville, played for (Howard) Schnellenberger, was the all-time leading passer and I’m a dirt-kicker at Dayton. Ham-and-egg backup.”

Hunt highlighted

The feature stuff on Margus Hunt was funny, from a few of his teammates (including Trotwood-Madison High School graduate Roy Roundtree) thinking he was from England instead of Estonia to defensive line coach Jay Hayes realizing he can’t use the phrase “he’s playing possum” because Hunt has no idea what he’s talking about.

Even better than the humor was the quote from defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer while the defensive coaching staff was watching film.

“He does some good stuff for not really knowing much about football,” Zimmer said. “I hate to say this but he kind of looks like J.J. Watt on some of this (stuff).”

That obviously drew a reaction from the other coaches, which led Zimmer to follow up with, “I’m not saying he’s that good, but he’s a big, good athlete.”

Hue gets real

The show focused more on the backup quarterback battle than it did the competition at fullback, where veteran John Conner, a Lakota West High School graduate, is going against Orson Charles, a second-year converted tight end.

Charles was listed as the starter on the initial depth chart, but running backs coach Hue Jackson gave him a thick dose of reality in one scene.

Charles walks into the room, and before he even sits down Jackson lets loose with this:

“I’m not going to bull (crap) you. You run, you stop your feet, you don’t block the right people, you stand up. You can’t play football. I mean you’ve been hearing this from Day 1. This is not a hard transition for you. I’m just being honest with you. You’ve got to (expletive) do it, or you won’t be here. That’s just the truth. I’m just being honest with you. I’ve stuck you out there all the time being first. I can’t stick you out there for first anymore. I can’t say to John Conner, ‘Hey, John, you’ve got to sit behind that and he’s the starter.’ I’m not giftwrapping anything. I stuck you first like I told you I would because I’m trying to give you the opportunity to take this thing and run with it. Now you have to go do it. And you’re not doing it.”

Charles says he’ll start working on it right after practice and then thanks Jackson as he’s leaving.

Jackson gives a mumbled “Yeah” without even looking up from his phone.

It would have been interesting to see a camera follow Charles out of the room to see his reaction.

It had to be hard to hear. But it was great television. It was the essence of Hard Knocks.

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