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Waiting on the Bengals to decide Rudi Johnson's future

For a time, I liked Rudi Johnson. Really. No, he's not the greatest running back in Bengals history -- though he's among franchise leaders in yards rushing (5,742 ranks third), rushing touchdowns (48 ranks second) and rushing attempts (1,441 ranks second). He owns the top two franchise single-season rushing records (1,454 in 2004, 1,458 in 2005) and his 12 rushing touchdowns from 2004-2006, is tied for third for most touchdowns in a season. Corey Dillon's 28 100-yard rushing games is the only career performance higher than Johnson's 19 100-yard rushing games. In 2004 and 2006, Johnson had five 100-yard rushing games which is tied with Ickey Woods, James Brooks, Harold Green and Corey Dillon for most in one season (Dillon did it three times, Johnson twice).

Earlier in his feature back career, Johnson was easily one of the league's best backs, rushing for well over 100 yards -- which he did in 19 times of 81 career games. Of those 19 100-yard rushing performances, 13 happened from 2005 and earlier. In six of those games, he rushed for 145 yards or more six times -- his best career performances.

Date Result Att. Yards TDs
11/28/04 W 58-48, CLE 26 202 2
11/9/03 W 34-27, HOU 43 182 2
12/14/03 W 41-38, SF 21 174 2
12/11/05 W 23-20, CLE 30 169 1
11/16/03 W 24-19, KC 22 165 0
9/17/06 W 34-17, CLE 26 145 2

Former center Rich Braham had his under-rated career suddenly end against Cleveland in 2006, the same game that David Pollack's career ended. Eric Steinbach was forced to play center and tackle, as well as guard, in that season. The offensive line was being patched, shuffled, and showed instability. Rudi Johnson came up nearly 150 yards short of his 2004 and 2005 performances. Then in 2007, a hamstring injury likely sealed any chance for Rudi Johnson to regain the form that set two franchise rushing records.

He recorded his last 100-yard rushing game in the 45-51 loss at Cleveland, September 16, 2007. His 5.1 yards-per-carry in that game was one full yard higher than his second highest yards-per-game performance against St. Louis. He ran below 3.0 yards-per-carry in seven of the 11 games he played in 2007.

Once it was known during the off-season that Rudi Johnson worked hard to regain his weight and lower body strength, it seemed that the team was on pace to regain a quality rushing attack -- severely missed in 2007. The coaches were just as impressed with Johnson as they were with Chris Perry during minicamps. Then everyone became deflated when Rudi suffered a hamstring injury on his other leg early in training camp, not seeing a snap in preseason and participating in two practices since the team's intrasquad scrimmages.

ESPN broke a story that the Bengals were shopping Rudi for a quality wide receiver. Marvin Lewis, it was reported, didn't really know this, and Rudi lost any interest being apart of this team. That didn't stop Lewis from promoting that Rudi would need to play in Thursday Night's preseason finale against the Colts to get an idea where his old running back was at; which never happened. Lewis said afterwards that "we wanted to make sure they were at full strength. They only had a week of practice, which is not exactly what you had hoped to have had. Actually two days of practice. That's not as though we had a full week. So now we have a chance to get everybody with a full week under their belt. Particularly coming off what they were coming off. You don't want to overstress the muscles."

This seems true enough because T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Antwan Odom were expected to get some snaps, and never did. I'm not exactly sure that Rudi is gone, either by trade (which I highly doubt) or a causality of cut-down day. Said Rudi Johnson, "keep your TVs and your cell phones on and all that good stuff and see what happens."