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And we are back.

I’m sorry this blog has been quiet over the offseason, but it turns out that publishing a book is a lot of work and so whilst I was following the offseason as usual, there wasn’t much time to delve deeply into free agency or the draft and I didn’t have the time to dive into my usual football/coaching offseason reading.

If you want to take a look at what I was up to, head over to gavinneale.com where I have been writing about the publishing process and getting my first children’s book out into the world.

However, it has been a refreshing break and I am eager to get into the new season and we already have our first round of preseason games and the training camp documentary Hard Knocks has aired its first episode as they follow the relocated Los Angeles Rams.

I will be scaling back my preseason watching this year as I haven’t been able to cope with the number of team’s I’ve tried to follow previously, so I will be focussing as usual on the Bengals, following the Rams’ games in parallel with Hard Knocks, and will be picking an as yet undecided third team, although I’ll need to pick someone soon.

The first episode of Hard Knocks was relatively quiet; we discovered that head coach Jeff Fisher doesn’t want to go 7-9 this season. The fact that this is what his teams often do is possibly not lost on him, but I will be curious to see how they get on in the coming weeks.

Aaron Donald is one of my favourite players (admittedly I do have a lot of those) and we have already discovered that’s he is pretty competitive (hardly a surprise in a professional sportsman) and that he’s pretty damn good at table tennis. The number of players who were having problems with the sun rising in the east and setting in the west was kind of scary, and let’s hope Jared Goff learns quickly as the Rams have bet a lot in their trade to get the number one pick and get him. We also learned just how close quarterbacks have to get to their centres, and the tank top obsession starting centre Eric Kush that featured heavily in the arrival footage.

Moving on from the Rams, I’ll pick up the Bengals first preseason game as that’s the one I have watched so far, and will pick up the others in the future.

The big question coming into this preseason is surrounding the receivers after the loss of both Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu.

However, my initial take was that Andy Dalton looked pretty good in his opening series, completing his first five passes as the Bengals drove the ball well and then missed a field goal.

Thankfully this was preseason, as having lost the game 17-16 to the Minnesota Vikings that miss could have proved critical, although Marvin Lewis did use this game to try going for two rather than kicking an extra point at the end of the game that would have tied it.

If the first team offence looked good, with my own real worry being an injury to starting running back Jeremy Hill’s finger, the first team defence was downright scary, producing a pressure, sack, pressure, and a punt for the Vikings first offensive series of the game. Both Michael Johnson and Geno Atkins got in on the sack, with Atkins generating the pressure on the first play of the drive, and Carlos Dunlap getting pressure on the second.

That was pretty much it for the first team defence and we saw the depth play out for the rest of the game. The Vikings found it easier to move the ball, and you could tell that the Bengals have been banged up in the secondary as the quality of coverage did slip earlier than you would have liked in this game, although this was only the first of preseason.

That said, a couple of newer names caught the eye on defence, in particular third round linebacker Nick Virgil who seemed to be in the right place often and stuffed a run either at the line of scrimmage or for a small loss. Second year defensive tackle Marcus Hardison caught my eye with lots of good penetration and seemed to play well next to undrafted free agent rookie David Dean.

The probable star of this game was another undrafted free agent rookie in receiver Alex Erickson who caught a touchdown pass from AJ McCarron shortly before halftime and returned a punt for a touchdown in the fourth quarter to setup the Bengals’ failed two point conversion.

Erickson was not the only receiver fighting for a roster spot to play well, with rookie draft picks Tyler Body and Cody Core both making several catches and looking good in the process, along with a number of practice squad and lower in the depth chart receivers also catching balls.

I said the big question for the Bengals this preseason would be a receiver, and this game demonstrated that there looks to be a lot of good options. Whilst I certainly wouldn’t want to make a pick as to who will make it this early in the preseason, I am feeling a lot happier about the position already and that is a pretty good outcome from the first preseason game.

Onwards then, to the rest of the preseason games as the start of the season finally comes into view.

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