Hard Knocks cameras eye stories no matter the shot


Chris Pressley

The site has changed, but not the camera angle as NFL Films senior producer Rob Gehring sets his sights on Paul Brown Stadium for next week's walkthrough in preparation for documenting the Bengals training camp for HBO's Hard Knocks.

Part of the draw for the Bengals in 2009 was the throwback location in Georgetown, Ky., where Georgetown College not only offered dorm life but also a cozy convenience to all the necessities.  

Yet even though the Bengals have joined the parade of teams staying to train at home, it still could be about location, location, location when the camp starts July 26 in a 3 p.m. practice.

"The romantic in me would love to have that old-school, traditional type of training camp, but the truth is that nobody is doing it anymore," Gehring said Thursday. "But given that we're downtown and the fans are right on top of the practice, the city of Cincinnati itself may end up being some kind of character as things unfold."

Gehring is hesitant to say what is going to be a storyline and what is hitting the cutting room floor because the only thing they've done is build their temporary offices at PBS. But he sees possibilities in the fan intimacy on the practice fields and the two sessions inside PBS, two factors not available in '09. Plus, there is the Aug. 4-8 trip to Atlanta that culminates in the ESPN preseason game on Aug. 8.

"The (practices) with the Falcons I think are going to be interesting when you have practices embedded with another team," Gehring said. "About two-thirds of the second show is going to be from Atlanta and by the time they get back, that's about when teams break camp to come back (to their own facilities), anyway. So really, you're only talking about the first show."

The first rule of Hard Knocks is The Stories. And those happen everywhere and anywhere. The team doesn't get paid for appearing on the documentary, but Gehring sees some potential rich plots no matter the venue.

"In the end, it's the people driving the stories and not the atmosphere," he said.

Guys like Chris Pressley, the fullback who became a major storyline in '09 as a rookie free-agent that overcame crushing poverty during his New Jersey childhood. As one of the 13 returning Hard Knocks Bengals, Pressley isn't crossed off the list as he finishes off rehab for the knee injury that ended his season Dec. 13 in Philadelphia.  

"Not in the least. It's a position that has interest because of the competition with him and John Conner and what they're going to do with Orson Charles," Gehring said. "I've got a list of those 13 guys that are back and none of them have been precluded."

Even though he was a star in the '09 version, Pressley has yet to watch the series and doesn't plan on it for years. Although he knows when NFL Network is replaying it, like last month, because his barber and some people at the mall asked him, "Aren't you the Hard Knocks guy?"

"We all watched the first one at Georgetown, but I don't like watching myself on TV," Pressley said. "I don't really like the spotlight. I'd rather just do my work. I'd rather not be recognized.

"One day when I'm sitting back, I'll show my kids. It's for memory sake. It's a cool thing."

By most accounts, Pressley has received positive feedback from the show. His mother and his work ethic were roundly praised and while some in his family were uneasy with how the look back might have been "a sob story," he concluded, "The past is what got me where I am, so I'm grateful for it."

It will be recalled that Pressley didn't make the team and signed to the practice squad, where the Buccaneers poached him in October for their active roster. He re-signed with the Bengals a year later after the Bucs cut him.

"Some people asked me if it was Hard Knocks that got me to Tampa and I tell them I don't think that's how NFL organizations work," he said. "I think they watch their own film."

But he says if you're one of the storylines, it can be a Hard Knock life. Pressley found out if they wanted 15 minutes, it became 25. A half-hour could mushroom to 45 minutes. The nights weren't relaxed, but jammed.

"As a rookie, anything that is going to take you away from the playbook, from rest, it's a distraction; it's definitely a distraction," Pressley said. "When you're getting into something that's all new, you're trying to maximize your rest, you're trying to maximize your time with the coaches, spend extra time with special teams.

"It was a distraction, but it was a distraction I could handle. You don't let it affect you. It's like anything else. You have to get the job done."

But Pressley enjoys the show and thinks the crew does an excellent job portraying the way it really is. He knows because he remembers watching a Cowboys Hard Knocks while he was in college at Wisconsin and he loved the insight into the league where he wanted to make a living.

Yet he still doesn't like to get miked during practice.

"Guys walk away from you or they just don't talk to you," Pressley said. "I'm vocal around the guys at the position, but then I have to be careful about what I might say. I just couldn't ask questions. As a young player, you have so many questions and you may want to ask them right after a play. But I'd just wait (after the mike was off). You don't want to share your vulnerabilities."

Pressley says he hears how most teams don't want to do the show because of the distractions. But he thinks because so many of the Bengals coaches and their veterans went through it just four years ago, it won't be a problem. He calls any of the distractions it may bring "harmless."

He also has some advice for Gehring. Pressley wouldn't re-shoot his story.

"I think they should give other guys a chance. I think it's a good thing to get their voice out there," he said. "I'm not the most vocal guy. I'm not funny. So they can get someone with more personality.

"In the general public there are more people struggling than making it. They should go to a guy that's really trying to be in the underdog position. People like to see that story. So I think a guy who is borderline, who could make it but he's going to have an uphill battle, just do that story and play it out. I think fans like to see that."

No doubt Gehring likes the sound of that. No matter his location.

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