CINCINNATI — The Cincinnati Bengals, who will be featured on the HBO show Hard Knocks for the second time in five years, have a mind to dish out hard knocks.
The Bengals' brass certainly sounded confident and determined Tuesday during the team's annual pre-training camp media day at Paul Brown Stadium.
The last time Cincinnati was featured on Hard Knocks, 2009, the Bengals swept the AFC North and reached the playoffs with a 10-6 record.
Now, the Bengals are coming off two straight one-and-done playoff appearances and another 10-6 regular season.
"No. 1, the group that's returning from a year ago worked very hard to get where we were, and we weren't successful at the end of the year," Marvin Lewis said when asked what he likes about this team. "They carried that kind of attitude and work ethic into our spring and off-season. I think, then as we went, we've been able to acquire and do the things we wanted to do — re-sign our own players, go out if we could find one impact guy, at least. We were able to do that with James Harrison."
A five-time Pro Bowl linebacker with Pittsburgh, Harrison is Cincinnati's key free-agent acquisition.
Another pickup Lewis likes is tight end Alex Smith, a nine-year veteran from Cleveland. His presence should push starter Jermaine Gresham and first-round draft pick Tyler Eifert in the double-tight-end formation.
"He's very natural at what he does. He can beat 'man' coverage no problem; he can beat zones," offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said of Eifert. "He's got a great feel for the game. A great catch radius. We'll see, when the pads get on how he does blocking some of these guys on the running game. Because in order to be very successful with this two-tight-end offense, you've got to be able to run the ball some."
Lewis, now in his 11th season coaching the Bengals, thinks defensive tackles Devon Still and Brandon Thompson are ready to step into bigger roles.
Still, a second-round pick in 2012, played in eight games last year. Thompson, a third-round pick, played in three games.
And cornerback Brandon Ghee is back after missing a season because of a wrist injury.
"Then you add the young guys in the draft from this past year," said Lewis, whose list starts with Notre Dame's Eifert and North Carolina running back Giovani Bernard.
Gruden said Bernard is a versatile runner who can hit inside or outside, and who has the quickness and good hands needed to be a receiving weapon.
Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer discussed what his players need to do this season.
"Before we can take the next step, we have to be good fundamentally," he said. "We have to play great team defense, and we have to not make mistakes. ... If we don't do those things, there's no way we'll be able to take the next step.
"From there, we have to be able to create more turnovers, we have to use the players in the best place that we can, we have to be better earlier in the year than we were last year."
The Bengals report Wednesday and hit the practice field Thursday for a private workout.
■ Two former Kentucky Wildcats are trying to earn roster spots: DeQuin Evans and John Conner.
Evans, a defensive end, has spent two seasons on the practice squad and has not played in a regular-season game.
"I love DeQuin. He's a tough, tough competitor," Zimmer said. "He gives you a great day of work every single day and he does have a chance. He's got a lot of guys in front of him who are all pretty good. But I think the kid is a tough kid. He's heavy handed, he's physical and he's overcome a lot. He's a good kid."
Conner, a fullback, is a Cincinnati native who joined the Bengals last December. He played for the New York Jets for 2½ seasons.
"John came in last year and played against Houston when Chris Pressley got hurt. He's going to compete for the fullback job," Gruden said "Orson Charles has been playing fullback and tight end and, when Chris Pressley gets back, he'll be competing. (Conner) does some good things. He's a powerful guy. He's not afraid of any contact, that's for sure."
■ Tyrone Goard, a rookie receiver out of Eastern Kentucky, "was coming along and then hurt his finger, so he's going to miss the first couple of weeks of training camp," Gruden said. "But, hopefully when he gets back, he'll challenge."
Mark Maloney: (859) 231-3229. Twitter: @MarkMaloneyHL. Blog: markmaloney.bloginky.com.