The Bengals backfield is in a precarious period. Top back Cedric Benson is in free agent limbo, and although he has been a tough and durable back, he may not be the best fit for the team.
Why would a back that has topped 1,100 yards in each of the last two seasons no longer fit? Add his production to the fact that he is still two years shy of the dreaded 30th-year decline, and he has relatively low miles due to his early career misuse by the Chicago Bears. Even though he was obviously not overused for his first few seasons, Benson has averaged better than 300 carries per year in the last two seasons, and that may hinder his explosiveness and endurance.
The Bengals have transitioned to the West Coast offense with the hire of Jay Gruden. The West Coast offense will require a faster back with excellent hands and the ability to move well in space. Benson is a powerful back who lacks great speed to the outside. He does have good burst through the hole, but with the intricacies and speed requirements that create spacing across the field, Benson will ultimately be behind the curve.
The team will need a power complement for its backfield, but Benson’s production will call for a hefty salary. A back that may end up in a timeshare, like most modern NFL offensive backfields, will not require such a large monetary investment.
The solution to the transition is for the Bengals to look into acquiring Reggie Bush. Bush’s game-breaking skills are evident to everyone who has watched game film from his time with the Saints or his college days at USC. He has a wide receiver’s hands and game-changing speed. The type of offense Gruden is installing would require a back that has the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and take the pressure off rookie quarterback Andy Dalton.
Bush can split out and double as a receiver. There are even teams that would move him to receiver if they acquired him. That versatility has led Bush to post better than 58 receptions per year for his career. That type of production will make the transition to the NFL much easier on Dalton, who may have a rougher time than normal coming from a smaller school (though only time will tell). Dalton could use every advantage he can get.
Drafting A.J. Green was a great start, but he’s not going to right the ship on his own. Bush would have a more saturated salary, but with the number of touches he would garner as a runner, receiver and returner, the money would be justified.
If they pursued Bush, they would still need to acquire a power back to serve as a goal-line and short-yardage back. He has averaged about 420 yards on 105 carries for his career and just shy of 430 yards on 55 catches a year. Those are all on part-time duty, and Bush can definitely take on more touches per game, especially if he is utilized at multiple positions to keep his body from absorbing a full-time running back’s punishment. He can handle more than five touches per game. Bush is a special player who can make a difference in multiple aspects of a game.
The Bengals are positioning themselves to be a speedy, game-breaking team, and Bush would be a huge step in the right direction. He is a great fit for the team and for the system. He would relish a fresh start and would automatically be the type of game-changing player a young team looks for. They are going to need all the playmakers they can get to keep up with the defenses that Pittsburgh and Baltimore produce.