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G-town sets stage

Georgetown College's Toyota Stadium

Posted: 4:40 p.m.

Set to be the stage for prime-time television this summer, Georgetown College is ready to be transformed from tiny, hidden NAIA gem to middle man for the sprawling initials of HBO and the NFL.

When Hard Knocks invades the Georgetown, Ky., campus to chronicle the Bengals training camp, the college is preparing for three weeks of priceless advertisement that could shatter all kinds of attendance records. Citing the series as well as the series of offseason moves that have energized Bengaldom, Georgetown athletic director Eric Ward said Friday  the record of 50,000-plus in 2006 could be in danger.

"You don't really know what's going to happen, so we're going to be ready for everything and do whatever we can to help the people filming the show," Ward said. "The hardcore Bengals fans are going to show up. But I just have the feeling that the curious Bengals fan and the people that don't come every year are going to be lured this year."

Certainly the college has never advertized the camp the way HBO plans to pass the word. Ward says during a meeting earlier this week he was told the series is going to be bandied about on full-page ads in The New York Times and Sports Illustrated.

"I don't know what those ads cost," Ward said, "but I'm pretty sure we couldn't afford it. And you have to realize that this is not only great exposure for the college but also the community."

According to an industry source, an ad that big in the Times costs anywhere between $60-$100,000.

Ward and his people, along with the Bengals public relations staff and NFL Films and HBO, had their first meeting at the school on Wednesday.

"It was pretty intense; they took a lot of notes," Ward said. "They were looking at it from a logistical standpoint; where to park their vehicles, where to hold one-on-one interviews, looking at the traffic patterns of camp, how and when the players go to the dorms and the locker room and the dining hall so they can start laying cable.

"The biggest change for us is they're going to be shooting from the time the players get up to when they go to bed and the cameras are going to be everywhere. From the dorms to the weight room. We're just not used to that constant media presence."

There'll always be four camera crews going and the show staff figures to hold at about 25 with various comings and goings. But no one knows what the number of fans is going to be. Ward figures it could be anything from the high-water mark following the 2005 AFC North championship season to last summer's dip to 35,000 in the wake of a bad '07 and an even worse economy.

"If it gets back to four dollars a gallon, they're not going to come," Ward said of last summer's gas gouge. "There are some question marks with Chad and how they're going to replace T.J., and some might just say, 'I'll wait until they decide what to do.' But there has been more positive than negative in the offseason."

After the record 50,000-plus in '06, crowds went to about 40-45,000 in '07 before the '08 crash, but Ward agrees the combination of the cameras and popular new faces like Tank Johnson, Roy Williams and Rey Maualuga could bring the numbers back to '05-'06 levels.

One certainty appears to be on the verge: After a meeting of team and school officials three weeks ago, Ward said judging from the tenor of the discussion and comments from both sides the expectation is there'll be an announcement some time in mid June saying the club will return to Georgetown for the 2010 training camp.

"But there is nothing signed yet," Ward said.

SPECIAL SPOTS: Next to Bengals president Mike Brown and head coach Marvin Lewis, special teams coach Darrin Simmons probably has the next most sway when it comes to picking the final roster. And one of the big spots he's looking at is running back.

"We've been missing a guy out of there for the last couple of years and we need someone to step up now," he said. "It's going to an interesting competition."

Simmons' main man used to be Kenny Watson, a guy that did it all on special teams but couldn't play there in '07 because he had to play for the injured Rudi Johnson and couldn't do it last year because of his own injuries.

"Now he's back and healthy and we'll see what he can do with these other guys," Simmons said.

The running back position is a metaphor for Simmons when it comes to injuries. The Bengals were solid in the special teams rankings during  2004 (7), 2005 (16) and 2006 (9). But in the last two years it's been 22 and 24, respectively, and a lot of it has to do with injuries.

"We've got to stay healthy," Simmons said.

He's talking about a guy like running back DeDe Dorsey. All he does is flash and help on special teams (his punt block for a TD was a club first in 18 years in '07), but Simmons says, "Every year he's been here he's been hurt. We like what he does, but we need him on the field."

The conventional wisdom is that former Ram Brian Leonard is the leading candidate to back up Cedric Benson and be the third-down back, leaving Watson, Dorsey, James Johnson, and sixth-round pick Bernard Scott in a big-time scramble for the No. 3 and last running back position, a spot it would appear is going to be heavily influenced by special teams.

As for Scott getting a shot to return punts and kicks, Simmons said, "He'll get his chance."

Simmons also needs something out of the fullback position. "We haven't had that here in a couple of years and it's because we haven't had a lot of them," he said.

Simmons makes no bones about what else is missing that those '04-'06 special teams units had: "When you had the fourth players at a position who were big-time producers on special teams."

Guys like cornerback Reggie Myles and wide receiver Kevin Walter. Myles set the franchise record in '04 for 23 special-teams tackles (tied by safety Kyries Hebert last year) and in '05 while Walter was catching 19 balls for 211 yards he tied for the team lead with 16 special-teams tackles.

"We need those kinds of guys, the No. 3, No. 4 guys, to step up," Simmons said.

OCHO UPDATE: As far as his mentor can tell, wide receiver Chad Ochocinco is in his best shape since '05.

Exhibit A is his 195 pounds and not the 178 he brought into camp last year "because he didn't do a damn thing," says Charles Collins.

Exhibit B is the series of four "paced" 40-yard dashes of under 4.5 seconds in two-minute intervals.

Collins, his junior college position coach who worked with the Bengals receivers last season, took a call from Ochocinco on Friday and when he came back on the line he said, "That's a perfect example of what I mean."

He said The Ocho had just finished lifting in an 8:30 a.m. session and was checking to make sure the 11:30 a.m. run up Sand Hill was still on.

"This is the Bear Day. This is a bear. We run up the hill a couple of times. It's hard to do without stopping. Yeah, it's on the beach but it's 120 meters straight up with a 60-degree grade," Collins said.

But The Ocho apparently still isn't taking calls from the 513 area code. Or at least from Paul Brown Stadium. Collins said he expects Ochocinco to stay in Los Angeles working out with him for the next two weeks before reporting to PBS for the June 18-20 mandatory minicamp.

As good as he reportedly looks, The Ocho is still under the radar in these parts while players and coaches go about their business as if he's not in their plans.

"He's at the point where he thinks he has to be here to get his mojo back," Collins said. "If he was in Cincinnati practicing, it would be good, of course. But he feels like in order to get back to where he was, he's got to focus on those things. When he gets to the minicamp, he wants to show people that he's ready to play."

And Collins insists Ochocinco understands that he's playing for the Bengals and says he's excited about the moves that have been made.

"He hasn't been talking to anybody, but he's fired up about it," Collins said. "I just think he's past the talking. We've said when we go in there, we're not going to talk, we're going to play."

Collins also insists Ochocinco still has the passion to play and understands that at age 31 he can't do what he did to his body last offseason and let it go.

"To go from one of the top five receivers in the league to 65 in the league hurt him," Collins said. "He felt that, and he wants to get back. I told him he had to get back and do the things he was doing before Ochocinco and all that other crap."

But that still doesn't solve the timing issues with his quarterback and a playbook that underwent a lot of fine tuning during the offseason. But Collins says he's "80-90 percent back" to his peak form. The ankle that bothered him all last offseason and the one waited to have scoped just before training camp looks to be fully healed.

"He's able to stick his foot in the ground and go. From what I can see he's got that great first step back," Collins said. "I think what he needs to do is get back to some of the techniques and work on the fundaments that he got away from. A lot of it is the mental part of it. But I think he's getting ready to have a really good year. He's getting in and out his breaks and he's working on catching the long ball. His times in the 40 show he's strong and has got endurance."

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