Running backs are considered a dime a dozen, where you can pick one up and he will provide the team with a lift. They are asked to carry the ball into a pile of humanity and absorb hits from all directions. In order to be an effective running back in the NFL, one must posses the ability to get through a hole that may exist for a split-second, roughly a millimeter wide, have speed to the outside getting around the edge, and the durability to withstand the blows administered from the defenders.
Heading into training camp, the Bengals will be looking to progress on a much improved rushing offense from last season. The level of competition will be intense for the competitors with the goal of weeding out those who are unable to withstand the demands of the position. The current roster for training camp includes Cedric Benson, Brian Leonard and Bernard Scott, all of whom are holdover's from last season and, save for Scott's sprained ankle he suffered last month, look solid heading into training camp; Cordera Eason and Cedric Peerman were brought in during the off-season and will have to show their metal and worth during training camp.
The order of synopsis is the projected training camp depth chart order.
Cedric Benson has that rare quality in a running back that employs the speed to get outside and the power to explode through the middle. He can make defenders miss as well as sprint past them down field. His soft hands have proven to be a valuable asset, making receptions out of the backfield to keep drives alive. Benson came to the Bengals two seasons ago when the running game was failing and needed a new look. Given a second chance to prove he is an elite NFL running back, Benson has reverted back to his college playing days regaining the passion he lost in Chicago that led to his release. Cedric comes into training camp in the final year of a two-year deal, but with the knowledge he doesn't have to look over his shoulder thinking someone may take his spot away. He may lose some touches as the coaching staff looks to protect his longevity, but he is the solid leader of the running back corp.
Last season, Brian Leonard proved to be an unexpected asset to the Bengals, showing the desire to do what it took to get the job done. He wasn't the fastest running back on the field, but showed he was one of the more athletic, leaping over defenders on a number of occasions. Plus, his desire was exemplified several times after taking a short pass and working hard to gain the first down, each time preserving the drives to win the game. His preseason action should be limited so to protect him heading into the regular season, though it wouldn't be a surprise to see him to take the bulk of the carries to see if he's suitable for a feature back role. Leonard's hands and play making abilities has solidified him as a go to man when the game is on the line.
Exp: 2 years
Bernard Scott enters his second season with the Bengals and proved valuable in the running game and in kickoff returns. He showed quickness hitting hole in the middle and the speed to get outside. Scott finished second on the team last season with 321 yards rushing -- including 119 against the Raiders. He became the primary kickoff returner later in the season, recording a 31.6-yard average, including a 96 yard TD return against the Steelers. Going into training camp, look for him to solidify his status as the lead kickoff returner with a firm grip as Benson's backup. He is not known for being a good blocker, picking up blitz's well, which makes him a liability in those situations but should be worked on in camp. However, it will be difficult to supplant Scott from the roster during the preseason unless he suddenly has problems holding onto the football or durability issues arise again.
Cedric Peerman was drafted out of Virginia last season by the Baltimore Ravens in the sixth round before spending time in Cleveland and Detroit, later claimed by Cincinnati on April 27th. He was the leading rusher and scorer for the Cavaliers in 2008, finishing with 778 yards rushing and seven touchdowns; his first full season as a starter. He has sprinter speed, winning the Virginia state championship in the 100 meter dash and clocked a 4.45 second 40 in the 2009 combine. He has a stout body, 5'10'' 216 pounds, and possess a burst that can get him through the hole quickly. In the open field, he is capable of pulling away from defenders with good lateral movement to make them miss. Heading into the preseason, his biggest asset may be his soft hands and ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. A problem area is durability, as he suffered a broken ankle missing the last half of the 2007 season and a knee problem that caused him to miss time in 2008. The size of his hands has also been called a concern, considered smallish in size leading to fumble fears. He did not endear himself as he fumbled during the 2008 Senior Bowl.
Cordera Eason comes into training camp as an undrafted rookie free agent from Ole Miss. His senior season saw his production drop from 660 yards in 2008 to 133 yards rushing and a touchdown last season, spending more time as a blocking back. He possesses good speed with 40-times of 4.56 and 4.49 at the school's pro day. Eason has a large frame at 6'0" 225 pounds which allows him to take an NFL sized pounding and make for a solid lead back heading into the hole. This size and speed will make him a versatile player as a back-up to either position. However, Eason will have to overcome his problems of holding onto the football if he is to get playing time during preseason as he struggled to do so at Ole Miss in spring practice. Look for him to spend time at both positions during the preseason as the Bengals figure out what his best attributes are.
Peerman and Eason have the biggest uphill climb due to their lack of experience in the NFL. Both have assets that the team can benefit from, whether catching or blocking. They will have a difficult time of moving Leonard or Scott out of a roster spot unless something extraneous occurs. Expect to see Peerman and Eason on the field, not only lined-up in the backfield, but on special teams as the Bengals will likely give them every chance to showcase their wares. And if not, there's always the practice squad.