Bengals Training Camp: Depth at Running Back is Open Competition

Cedric Benson against Washington Redskins

In his final three games last season, Cedric Benson recorded 462 yards total (rushing and receiving) on 89 touches -- 5.2 yards-per-touch. Against the Redskins, Browns and Chiefs, Benson recorded 355 yards rushing on 84 attempts (4.2 yards-per-rush). In his final two games, he recorded 282 yards against two of the league's worst rushing defenses -- Browns (28th) and Chiefs (30th). Even with Benson's closing performance at the end of the season, the Bengals rushing offense still only ranked 29th in the league, averaging 95 yards rushing per game.

Things have to change.

Throughout the offseason, we've heard head coach Marvin Lewis talk about remaking the playbook; eventually confirmed by Bob Bratkowski and quarterback Carson Palmer. The general theory is that in order for the Bengals succeed in this division, they must effectively rush the ball; which was proven during the 2005 playoff run where the Bengals rushed the ball effectively.

Is Cedric Benson the man to run the ball effectively against the league's better rush defenses? As it stands, likely solidified into the regular season, Benson will be the team's feature back. If the Bengals offense is to succeed, then so must Benson.

Competitively, it's an open season behind him. Who will be the team's backup running back. Who will be the team's third-down back? It's likely that Bernard Scott makes the team, at minimum, for special teams -- specifically, kickoff return. Brian Leonard is projected as the team's backup running back and, maybe, the third-down back. Where does that leave guys like Kenny Watson, DeDe Dorsey and James Johnson? Will Marlon Lucky, being a rookie, make the team's practice squad? Alternatively, will that go to Fui Vakapuna, provided Jeremi Johnson makes the squad in his you've got one chance left campaign. Will Chris Pressley have something to say about all of that?

Are those enough questions for you? Here's my opinion on how things shake out, without mentioning Benson who is obviously enjoying his place at the running back throne.

The Bengals take two more running backs and a fullback. Those running backs are Leonard and Scott. There's no reason to believe, based on historical trends, that Jeremi Johnson gets into playing shape after repeated frustrations of coming into camp overweight. Marvin Lewis recently said of Jeremi that he's "got a long way to go to make the team. We don't know how Jeremi will be." Vakapuna becomes the team's fullback and short-yardage back. It's possible that Scott goes to the practice squad while Kenny Watson plays the final year of his existing contract -- he's noted as a good blocking back on third down (though I think that gets overstated sometimes) and that could be enough to keep him on the squad. I don't think Dorsey and James Johnson make the squad and Marlon Lucky's best shot is to make the practice squad.

Cincy Jungle's Projected Depth Chart

Cedric Benson
Brian Leonard
Bernard Scott
Fui Vakapuna
Practice S
Marlon Lucky
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