Spotlighting the Cincinnati Bengals' RB Position Heading into the 2012 Season
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The Cincinnati Bengals need to make their offense more balanced, which means improving their run game. They struggled carrying the ball last season, a result of a combination of play-calling, a down year for the now-departed Cedric Benson and problems on the offensive line.
This year, they've replaced Benson with BenJarvus Green-Ellis, look to use a committee of backs instead of a single, feature back and have upgraded at the guard position to improve their up-the-middle yardage.
Let's take a closer look at each of the Bengals' running backs and try to determine how each will factor into the team's offensive plans this season.
If there's one word to describe BenJarvus Green-Ellis, it's "reliable." In his four seasons with the New England Patriots, Green-Ellis never fumbled the ball, and the hope is that he'll continue this fumble-less streak with the Cincinnati Bengals.
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Green-Ellis doesn't have the explosive speed to be an every-down back, and he'll likely be part of a two-back committee with longtime Bengal Bernard Scott as a result. However, Green-Ellis can certainly be effective, if his 1,008 rushing yards in 2010 are any indication.
Green-Ellis is also a major red zone threat. He had 11 rushing touchdowns last season and 13 in 2010, which is something the Bengals certainly need to improve. They averaged .6 rushing touchdowns per game in 2011 despite having the 13th-most rushing attempts of any team in the league.
Aside from scores on the ground, Green-Ellis is also effective in the passing game, as both a receiver and a pass blocker. He's certainly an upgrade over Benson.
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Bernard Scott will be splitting carries this year with Green-Ellis (and perhaps also Brian Leonard) after once being thought of as the ideal, single-back replacement for Benson. That all went out the window after Scott's 2011 season, in which he had twice as many carries as he did in 2010 and his yards-per-carry average dropped from 4.9 to 3.4.
Scott's disappointing 2011 proved that he cannot handle the workload of a true feature back, and sharing the duties with Green-Ellis will allow him to maximize his strengths. Scott is more explosive than Green-Ellis, but he's not suited for goal-line duties or catching passes.
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Brian Leonard will have a smaller role in the Bengals' committee of backs, but he'll see more passes thrown his way. In third-down passing situations, look for Leonard to get time on the field, but likely those rushing attempts will end up falling to Green-Ellis this year.
Leonard has only one season in which he has rushed for over 100 yards—and that was in 2007, as a member of the St. Louis Rams. He had just 17 carries last year, for 85 yards, but he did catch 22 passes for 210 yards. Leonard averages around 20 passing targets per season, and that should continue in 2012.
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Seventh-round draft pick Dan Herron has been in a walking boot during OTAs and minicamp, but he should be ready to take the field once training camp starts.
Herron isn't going to be much of a factor in the Bengals' committee this season, and he may not last on the roster unless he proves to be useful on special teams and as a pass blocker. Though Herron is quite the bruiser, he doesn't have standout skills either running the ball or catching passes, which puts him on the roster bubble this summer.
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Cedric Peerman will be competing with Herron for the Bengals' third-string job this summer—and whoever doesn't win the battle could find himself cut, or at the very best, on the practice squad.
Peerman was active for 15 games last season, but the vast majority of his contributions were on special teams. He carried the ball just three times for a total of 15 yards. He won't be a part of the Bengals' committee if he sticks around, though he may be developed into a starter someday should he beat out Herron for a roster spot.
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