Bengals Training Camp Preview: Running Backs

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Bengals Training Camp Preview: Running Backs
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Both the success and failure of the Cincinnati Bengals will weigh on the emergence of a balanced offense.  Teams will be prepared for a strong running game regardless if Cedric Benson or Bernard Scott carry the backfield (pending Ced’s new legal challenges). 

Nonetheless, in order to keep the balance should the passing game emerge—the Bengals’ offensive line will ultimately need to open up the running lanes for the Cincinnati running backs while protecting Palmer.

The 2009 rushing offense for the Bengals averaged 128.5 yards per game on the ground which was good enough for ninth in the NFLConversely, the passing game averaged 180.6 yards per game which was a paltry 26th in the NFL.  This means several things with the moves made during the 2010 offseason regarding the passing game either there will be a drop in ruhing yards because of the emergent passing game, or more rushing yards because of the lackluster passing game. 

Certainly, the aforementioned is a catch 22 on the surface, but considering teams like the San Diego Chargers, New Orleans Saints, and Indianapolis Colts—all of whom compliment their rushing attack with great play in the air as well, the Bengals' Quarterback Carson Palmer has much to prove.   However, taking away Carson Palmer’s three rushing touchdowns in 2009, the rushing offense only accumulated six touchdowns all season—running backs and fullbacks included.  Yet ball retention was not the issue it as in 2008 when Chris Perry had five fumbles, as each of the 'backs in 2009 had only a single fumble each.

Assuming the O-line is up to snuff, the following is an in-depth analysis of the Bengals’ running backs.

 

Predicted Depth Chart (pending off-field issues):

 

1.     Cedric Benson : after a career year in which Benson appeared in 13 regular season games, rushing 301 times, with 1,251 yards on the ground, leading to an impressive 96.2 yards per game average along with 4.2 yards per carry, Cedric will be expected to improve upon last season's numbers and will need to increase his red zone production.

Passing game or not, close-quarter red-zone touchdowns are best achieved with an aggressive running game and with the limitation of a red-zone field.  In this Benson—along with his fellow running backs—must emerge.  Benson had a limited number of receptions at 17 for the season, which translated into 111 receiving yards. Benson was weak in this area where his backups showed more promise.

2.     Bernard Scott:   Scott proved one thing his first season that he has the potential to be the next franchise running back.  Aside from showing excellent promise as a kickoff return specialist, Scott gave a glimpse of what he might look like in the future, amassing a respectable 74 attempts, 321 rushing yards, which translated into a healthy 4.3 yards per attempt.

Scott showed he was more than a rushing threat, catching five balls for 67 yards for 13.4 yards per catch, averaging almost twice as many yards as Benson in this categoryConsidering this translated into 0.4 receptions per game played last season, it will be interesting to see if Scott is used in more swing pass situations to open up the flat for the receivers to go down field.

3.     Brian Leonard: Leonard showed tenacity but is likely going to see limited action as a third-down specialist.  Though his numbers were lower, there were key situations where his efforts literally made the difference between wins or losses. 

With only 27 rushing attempts leading to 84 rushing yards, and a respectable 3.1 yards per carry, Leonard was not recognized as a threat out of the backfield. Instead, he was more of a versatile backcatching passes in the flat, leading to huge gains .   Leonard caught 30 passes for 217 yards which translated into 7.2 yards per reception. 

The aforementioned results made Leonard the sixth option through the air, but what really stood out was where he was second on the team in yards after a catch, where he was second on the team behind Chad Ochocinco by only 16 yards with 223.  Tack on the 13 first downs through the air, Leonard was the not-so-secret backfield weapon which helped carry the Bengals through critical moments. 

Unfortunately for Leonard, this role is likely to be reduced with the increased investment in the passing game, especially at tight end in Jermaine Grisham.  Leonard was one of the parties needed to pick up the slack when Chris Henry was knocked out for the season. The emergence of new options may see Leonard’s time whittle even further.

 

Camp Competition:

 

1.     Cedric Peerman: Peerman has yet to emerge as a candidate in the NFL for any team.  After being drafted in the sixth round of the 2009 draft by the Baltimore Ravens, Peerman was cut and picked up by the lowly Detroit Lions. 

Appearing in two games at the end of the season, Peerman did not accrue any stats.  At Virginia, Peerman had an impressive senior season (in 2008), amassing 774 yards on 153 carries for a 5.1 yards per carry average.  His seven touchdowns were critical, particularly in Virginia’s games against East Carolina and North Carolina.  As a receiving back in the same season, Peerman caught 41 passes for 196 yards for a 4.8 yards per catch average. 

Peerman will likely end up as a practice squad candidate though could compete with Eason for the number three spot if Ced receives a suspension for his off-season arrest.

2.     Cordera Eason : Eason is an undrafted walk-on from Mississippi.  His college career was largely unimpressive —amassing  801 yards on 186 attempts translating in 4.3 yards per carry, and four touchdowns over four collegiate seasons. 

Eason received four passes for 39 receiving yards, averaging 9.8 yards per reception.  Eason also returned 3 kicks for 62 yards for 20.7 yards per return.  It is unknown what Cordera’s role will be aside from practice team fodder.  He did not play in last year’s Cotton Bowl victory, and aside from playing for a high-profile team, he was far from high profile.

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