The last time Chad Ochocinco played a game of football in his native Miami, he was making his debut for the New England Patriots in Week 1 of the 2011 season. Early in the game, he failed to step back from the line of scrimmage when the tight end motioned to his side, resulting in an illegal formation penalty and negating a 41-yard gain.
The rest of his year in New England didn’t go much better.
Now, Ochocinco walks into his second new team in two years, after spending the first ten of his career with the Cincinnati Bengals. He’ll be playing many more hometown games this season with the Miami Dolphins, but it won’t just be the Dolphins fan base following his every move in training camp.
With HBO’s popular Hard Knocks series coming to Dolphins camp, Ochocinco will be in the unique position of making his second appearance on the show. His first time around, with the Bengals in 2009, he provided several moments of great television, such as definitions of his oft-used phrases “kiss the baby” (meaning, it’s all over) and “child, please” (meaning, flip off, except using a more colorful word than flip). His second run promises to provide a new cache of entertainment, but this starts to beg the question, did Ochocinco choose Miami because of the presence of Hard Knocks?
Generally speaking, players of a more advanced age like Ochocinco use free agency opportunities to sign on to winning teams, hoping to earn a ring to retire with. The Dolphins are not one of those winning teams, and haven’t been for years. Their quarterback position is a mess, with not-quite-ideal veterans Matt Moore and David Garrard and greenhorn rookie Ryan Tannehill as the immediate options. A new head coach, Joe Philbin, is coming in, with a new system, which will take time to install. The roster is young, and some guys will need years to get up to speed. Seeing a man who’s always been an entertainer as much as a football player go to a competitively challenged team with a TV show has to be about the publicity, right?
The Hard Knocks announcement and the signing of Ochocinco happened less than two weeks apart, so it’s very easy to see the two events as connected. But Ochocinco has many reasons to really want to be in South Beach, independent of camera crews. He’ll play in his hometown for his childhood team. He’ll have an opportunity to lock down a starting role now and for years to come. He’ll get two chances a year to show Bill Belichick the player he still is. He’ll be playing for an offensive-minded head coach for the first time in his career, and maybe he thinks having a quarterback who used to be a receiver will garner some sympathy with respect to targets.
Whatever his reasons, he’s coming into an offense that could realistically see a big jump in productivity with a few lucky draws. The left tackle Jake Long is a mammoth of a man, and should keep the eventual starting quarterback’s jersey clean enough to distribute some balls. The resurgent Reggie Bush in the backfield should keep defenders on their toes, while middle talents like Davone Bess and Anthony Fasano should keep the short passing game moving. That leaves Ochocinco to work deep routes, the area of his game that has always been strongest. Its strength today is up for debate amongst us observers, but you can believe that Chad has as much confidence in himself as ever.
QB David Garrard told the Palm Beach Post on Tuesday, “the things I’ve seen of him, moving around on the field, he’s still very quick out of his breaks. That’s usually the number one decline for an older receiver, and I don’t see that.
“I also don’t see it with the hands, because he’s making some catches, going up over DB’s and making the catch. Those are the things you want to see him do, and he’s still doing it.”
If this praise from quarterback to elder receiver ends up being exaggerated, it would hardly be the first time in NFL history. But if Garrard’s words hold true, Ochocinco could adeptly take on the Jordy Nelson role in Joe Philbin’s offense. If the offense clicks, Ochocinco could come out looking like a hero for his hometown.
As a last note, this is as much about the end of the line for Hard Knocks as it is for Chad Ochocinco. Several teams refused HBO before the series settled in Miami, in no small part due to their comical presentation of the Jets’ training camp in 2010. The Hard Knocks team needs this year’s installment to show a dignified and constructive training camp if they ever want to be allowed on an NFL practice field again. Expect more good times from Chad and HBO, but expect them to be edited in a more team-friendly fashion this year.
As a veteran of the series, Ochocinco is likely looking to have some fun and entertain some fans on Hard Knocks once again. But above and beyond that, he is looking to forge a second act for his career in Miami. When he appeared on Hard Knocks with the Bengals in 2009, Ochocinco was coming off a 53-catch, 540-yard, 4-touchdown season in which the team finished 4-11-1. After HBO visited their training camp, the team rebounded to 10-6 and a division title, with Chad leading the way with 72 catches, 1,047 yards, and 9 touchdowns. If Ochocinco was able to overcome the supposed distraction and produce once, we have no reason to doubt he can do it again.