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Hard Knocks recap: The Life of the backup quarterback


Bengals backup quarterbacks John Skelton and Josh Johnson figured prominently in this week’s Hard Knocks, and HBO’s reality show about the NFL didn’t pull any punches in explaining why these two men are competing for a backup job, rather than being starters.

Skelton, the former Cardinals starter who is now competing to back up Andy Dalton in Cincinnati, appeared to struggle with the terminology in the new offense.

“He’s slow calling the plays, he’s slow getting to the line,” offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said. “John needs to be smart to win the job.”

Skelton admitted he feels like he’s “playing catch-up” as a new guy in Cincinnati, and Gruden explained that Skelton needs to show a better mastery of the offense if he wants to beat out Johnson.

“Josh is slightly in front, just because of his knowledge of the system, his comfort level with the system,” Gruden said. “I had him in Tampa Bay for one year in 2008, so he knows the terminology.”

At the same time, Johnson is a long way from being the kind of passer NFL teams want their quarterbacks to be.

“He has some issues that he needs to work out. Accuracy is one of them,” Gruden said of Johnson.

Added head coach Marvin Lewis, “I’ve never seen so many incompletions. His accuracy is just horrible.”

You don’t often hear coaches describe their players as “horrible,” but that’s because you don’t often get the kind of access to NFL teams that Hard Knocks provides. It remains one of the most entertaining hours on television for that reason, and for moments like these:

— Rookie Margus Hunt, a former shot putter from Estonia, got a surprise visit from his girlfriend, who traveled from half a world away to see him. Bengals owner Mike Brown said, “We drafted the Estonian kid, and I worry because, does he have friends?”

— Bengals running backs coach Hue Jackson told Orson Charles, who is attempting to make a transition from tight end to fullback, that he needs to get better in a hurry if he wants to make the 53-man roster. “You gotta f–kin do it, or you won’t be here,” Jackson said.

— Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, chatting with Dalton during a joint practice between the two teams, said teammate Tony Gonzalez is getting time off from training camp because he’s, “like, 50 years old.”

— Jon Gruden talking about how jealous he always was that Jay, his little brother, “could do everything better than me.” Although Jon has accomplished more as a coach, Jay was a better athlete and better quarterback than Jon, and it still seems to burn Jon that his younger brother once beat him in a race around their parents’ neighborhood.

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46 Responses to “Hard Knocks recap: The Life of the backup quarterback”
  1. thestrategyexpert says: Aug 13, 2013 10:58 PM

    Also interesting that they used footage from the Jets’ experience on Hard Knocks to highlight the other FB that might be beating Orson out of a job. Jon Connor, or “The Terminator” as they call him. That battle for the FB spot is quite interesting, plus they still have Chris Pressly on PUP that could be in the mix later on.

  2. aaroncurryisbust says: Aug 13, 2013 10:58 PM

    How sordid. Why would any team voluntarily accept to be featured on Hard Knocks?

  3. hatesycophants says: Aug 13, 2013 11:03 PM

    None of this sounds “entertaining” to me. I don’t need or want to know everything (some producer’s interpretation thereof) that goes on in training camp. The actual football games are enough for me.

    I agree with James Harrison.

  4. apm says: Aug 13, 2013 11:10 PM

    Crap, that makes 52.

  5. 1newprodigy says: Aug 13, 2013 11:10 PM

    I was most impressed with Hunt. The ceiling for this guy is higher then maybe any DE I have ever seen. Its just a matter of if he can continue to get better at the little things.

  6. t8ertot says: Aug 13, 2013 11:18 PM

    “How sordid. Why would any team voluntarily accept to be featured on Hard Knocks?”

    1) Players try harder
    2) Gets the team used to the limelight (especially a small market team like the Bengals)

  7. pooflingingmonkey says: Aug 13, 2013 11:18 PM

    It’s great having an inside look at how teams go about getting ready for the season. HBO does an excellent job, and I watch Hard Knocks no matter what team they present.

  8. thestrategyexpert says: Aug 13, 2013 11:20 PM


    To me I ask every team why would you NOT want to be feature on the show? I think the real answer is because they are all in some way cowards or insecure and afraid that they aren’t better than their competition. To me every team should want to be on the show and compete vigorously for the privilege. But you have to know you have the goods to not be afraid to be on the show, and not many NFL teams have a lot of real confidence in themselves. That’s why some of these Owners need to take a long hard look at the kind of people they have running their valuable franchises. It’s nuts out there.

    The Bengals rock and Burfict is Purfict!

  9. @Cereal_22 says: Aug 13, 2013 11:21 PM

    Boring episode

  10. titansbro says: Aug 13, 2013 11:24 PM

    I live Hard Knocks. Must see TV for this junkie.

  11. eaglesbar says: Aug 13, 2013 11:27 PM

    cant wait to watch

  12. bharr170 says: Aug 13, 2013 11:40 PM

    There are very few appealing storylines for the Bengals this year. As a Bengals fan I love this.

  13. fourteentoone says: Aug 13, 2013 11:51 PM


    Then don’t watch it?

  14. ashutto20 says: Aug 13, 2013 11:57 PM

    I enjoy watching the show and will continue to do so

  15. redrobots44 says: Aug 14, 2013 12:09 AM

    Then don’t watch. Some people find it interesting, we apologize for the inconvenience.

  16. guru506 says: Aug 14, 2013 12:50 AM

    Great to see John Conner back healthy and again on hard knocks, I absolutely love what this show brings and to get that first hand experience of what goes on at training camp is priceless…Hue is a hell of a coach

  17. realfootballfan says: Aug 14, 2013 1:56 AM

    It’s a compelling show, especially how they put it together and with HBO being able to be uncensored. It would be nice if you could get this bird’s eye view of all 32 teams.

  18. lewiscafarella says: Aug 14, 2013 2:31 AM

    Anything to add James Harrison?

  19. truths4all says: Aug 14, 2013 2:54 AM

    Even though he produced a perfect NFL QB rating in his recent 4th quarter outing when playing with and against the 3rd and 4th stringers, I sympathize with Skelton’s struggles as he tries to learn the West Coast Offense for the very first time as well as try to recover from Ken Whisenhunt’s botched job of “special QB training” that nearly ruined Skelton, Kolb, and Hoyer.

  20. skinsfan91 says: Aug 14, 2013 3:23 AM

    I didn’t think the Estonia guy’s girlfriend was from Estonia. Sounded like she “Y’all” with a Texas accent. Will watch again.

  21. joetoronto says: Aug 14, 2013 5:02 AM

    Bengals owner Mike Brown said, “We drafted the Estonian kid, and I worry because, does he have friends who I can charge admission to?”

  22. nyg201 says: Aug 14, 2013 5:36 AM

    Teams want to be on hard knocks for the exposure. It’s an attempt to gain more viewers on Sunday, but more important people at the gate. What you see on tv is only a fraction of what goes on.

    It probably doesn’t sound entertaining because 1 – you haven’t watched it or 2 – you’re just a casual fan of the game. It’s geared more toward the fans of the bengals and die-hard football fans.

  23. dsully69 says: Aug 14, 2013 7:20 AM

    Hunt’s girlfriend traveled from half a world to see him? You clearly were not paying attention. He went to SMU in Texas and when she speaks to him it is a pretty distinctive Texas accent, not an Estonian one. Texas to Cincy is barely half way across the country.

  24. tikisays says: Aug 14, 2013 7:39 AM

    Please no more back up qb stories unless they are about the Packers dream team of back ups!!

  25. cuda1234 says: Aug 14, 2013 7:41 AM

    Jay is also one of the greatest players and one of the better coaches in the history of Arena Ball. Jon just stumbled into a SuperBowl while destroying everything Tony Dungy built in Tampa.

  26. tikisays says: Aug 14, 2013 7:53 AM

    Please no more back up qb stories unless they are about the dream team of back up qb’s from the Packers

  27. bigdaddybullwhip says: Aug 14, 2013 8:11 AM

    Although I believe Andy Dalton is “good’ QB and a perfect gentleman and role model. I’m not sure he has the skills to win championships.

  28. cakesw says: Aug 14, 2013 8:17 AM

    I think John Skelton is not learning the playbook to mask his own accuracy issues.

    If they think Johnson is inaccurate, wait till they see more of Skelton.

  29. wikipediasaidso says: Aug 14, 2013 8:23 AM

    Margus Hunt’s girlfriend? Yeah, pretty sure she’s from Texas. Where Hunt’s lived for the last six years. So I don’t think the trip was that big a deal for her.

    Hunt will get to meet up with fellow Estonian Michael Roos this weekend. Maybe they’ll even line up against each other a few times, if the Bengals ever put Hunt on the right side.

  30. pixelito says: Aug 14, 2013 8:28 AM

    It would be nice to see some different teams participate, but it’s been very entertaining this season.

  31. jwil007 says: Aug 14, 2013 8:44 AM

    Great show, its funny and I love that we have coaches that will get in your stuff….Zimmer and Jackson are blunt and honest as heck and I can always respect a person that operates that way….Teams that whine about hard knocks need to be flexible and try change….Your fans will enjoy the experience..

  32. lottsmissingfinger says: Aug 14, 2013 9:01 AM

    I think you misheard what Ryan said about Gonzalez. It sounded to me like he said ’15 Pro Bowls’ not ’50 years old’.

  33. nonetruerthanblue says: Aug 14, 2013 9:10 AM

    For a real fan who loves the game of football and would never have a chance to see camaraderie in the locker room and on the practice field (where it all counts), this is a great show.

    I love football more than any other sports, year-round…not just September to February. I think real fans of the game AND the business of the sport can appreciate this yearly documentary.

  34. steelerfanjo says: Aug 14, 2013 9:14 AM

    This show is horrible. No one cares anymore and the Bengals are the Astro’s of the NFL.

  35. jjthesportsguy says: Aug 14, 2013 9:26 AM

    I really think this has been valuable to the Bengals. While they haven’t always sported a competitive team, their bouts on Hard Knocks have made me more aware of their players, and I honestly like them more because of what I have seen on Hard Knocks. Very fun to watch.

  36. logicalvoicesisnotlogical says: Aug 14, 2013 9:39 AM

    I don’t know if your ears are better than mine but I do believe when Ryan was talking about Gonzalez he said ” I guess that’s what happens as a 15 year vet.” Referring to him missing two weeks of camp for his son previous engagement that was scheduled before the falcons begged him to come back.

  37. thegenoatkinsdiet says: Aug 14, 2013 9:39 AM

    aaroncurryisbust says:
    Aug 13, 2013 10:58 PM
    How sordid. Why would any team voluntarily accept to be featured on Hard Knocks?


    And yet you watch…

  38. sfm073 says: Aug 14, 2013 9:55 AM

    So they rather play a guy that couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat, vs a guy that doesn’t know a few of the words in the playbook?

  39. whitdog23 says: Aug 14, 2013 10:31 AM

    Why include Jon Gruden? overrated in every aspect

  40. rugdaniels says: Aug 14, 2013 11:22 AM

    I love Hard Knocks, the only downside is that not too many upper echelon franchises would agree to do it. Dallas and the Jets were the only ones to stand out from the Chiefs, Dolphins, and the rest.

    I’m surprised we haven’t had a Raiders Hard Knocks that seems like it would be good.

  41. pooflingingmonkey says: Aug 14, 2013 11:51 AM

    steelerfanjo says:Aug 14, 2013 9:14 AM

    “This show is horrible. No one cares anymore and the Bengals are the Astro’s of the NFL.”

    The Astro’s what? Or did you mean Astros? Do they have schools in Pittsburgh?

    If the Bengals are the Astros, the Steelers are a triple A farm team. Didn’t Cincy make the playoffs last year while your team was home for the holidays?

  42. joetoronto says: Aug 14, 2013 12:24 PM

    The Bungals WISH they were the Astro’s.

  43. guru506 says: Aug 14, 2013 12:41 PM

    Dalton’s wife probably forces him to wear that stupid ring

  44. @Cereal_22 says: Aug 14, 2013 1:06 PM

    Barry Bonds & James Harrison have similar heads

  45. thegenoatkinsdiet says: Aug 14, 2013 1:48 PM

    joetoronto says:
    Aug 14, 2013 12:24 PM
    The Bungals WISH they were the Astro’s.

    And your Raiders wish they were the Bengals.

  46. dirtdawg54 says: Aug 14, 2013 1:50 PM

    Those were some harsh words about the back-up QBs. I can only assume Jeff Fisher and Peter King are up in arms over it.

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