Bengals 2013 Training Camp Preview: Running Backs

USA TODAY Sports

We're kicking off our position-by-position breakdown heading into training camp on July 25.

Running Backs (6): BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Giovani Bernard, Cedric Peerman, Rex Burkhead, Daniel Herron, Bernard Scott

ADDITIONS

Giovani Bernard ('13 Draft, No. 37 overall)
Rex Burkhead ('13 Draft, No. 190)

DEPARTURES

Brian Leonard (FA, Tampa Bay Buccaneers)

STATISTICS FROM 2012

CATEGORY NUMBERS (NFL RANK)
Yards 1,745 (18th)
Touchdowns 11 (t-18th)
Avg. 4.1 (t-18th)
Carries 430 (17th)
20-plus yards 13 (t-9th)
40-plus yards 3 (t-6th)

THE OPENING

The Cincinnati Bengals were a mediocre rushing offense in 2012, ranking outside the top-16 in most major statistical categories. However, during a five-game stretch last year, they proved capable of applying domination. Cincinnati's rushing offense exploded with 841 yards rushing and averaging 5.1 yards/rush from week 11-15. Otherwise the Bengals failed to reach the 100-yard milestone in nine of 17 regular season games last season.

THE CAST

Signing a three-year deal in 2012, BenJarvus Green-Ellis was projected as a short-yardage runner that fought for those tough gains to sustain drives and become more effective in the red zone. Instead, a Bernard Scott injury forced Green-Ellis into a bell-cow back, posting a career-high 278 carries. Successfully picking up first downs in short-yardage situations last year, Green-Ellis showed unexpected explosiveness with a handful of gains over 20 yards (three over 30 and two over 40).

Giovani Bernard, drafted in the second round of the 2013 NFL draft, is expected to have a significant contribution. So much so that the number of carries between Bernard and Green-Ellis could be more balanced, allowing the bigger back to rest while the rookie back applies quickness and versatility. We're not going to apply the "change of pace" tag on Bernard. Based on the constant praise received from running backs coach Hue Jackson, Bernard will be more than that.

You want Cedric Peerman as your upback on punt team, generating gains of 48 and 32 yards against the Jaguars and Chiefs respectively during fakes. Peerman is also a capable backup running back, who posted a career-year with Cincinnati in 2012 with 258 yards rushing and a 7.2 yards/rush average (take away the fake punts, and the average is still 5.2 yards/rush).

If Rex Burkhead had declared for the NFL draft in 2012, there is a belief that he could have been selected anywhere after the third round. Instead, he stayed at Nebraska and watched his status drop considerably after missing six games due to an injury. A fluid runner that lacks power, Burkhead is a high-motor guy that's ideal as a reserve back that's primarily a contributor on special teams.

Recalling the preseason experience last season, it was evident that Daniel Herron has a long journey to become an NFL running back. Relying on the strength that paved his way through college won't be enough and it held Herron to a 1.7 yard/rush average during last year's preseason (his biggest sample). Willing to develop him, the Bengals signed Herron onto the team's practice squad until week 13, when he was promoted to the 53-man roster. Herron made an immediate impact on special teams, blocking a punt against the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles.

At one point earlier during his career, Bernard Scott was that guy. A promising talent that was a sixth-round steal in 2009, Scott was employed speed with great hands as a potential yardage-eater. Unfortunately, Scott's contributions faded over time. It all culminated in 2012 when Scott missed all but two games with an assortment of injuries. However, the Bengals are giving Scott another opportunity to breath life into his young career.

THE EXPECTATION

Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden is still envisioning a two-back system that he's struggled to apply since 2011 and hopes to apply that with the recent Giovani Bernard acquisition. Green-Ellis will remain the starting running back but we're projecting a balanced rotation with Bernard. Expect Green-Ellis to also carry the football in short-yardage situations, which is why he was signed in the first place. Otherwise, Bernard will play more third-down situations.

Rex Burkhead and Daniel Herron figure to compete for the fourth roster spot, assuming that Cedric Peerman is a lock to make the 53-man roster through special teams. And like Peerman, the path for the 53-man roster between Burkhead and Herron will be special teams.

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