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Competition at running back should be fierce; Bengals rushing offense could rebound

If you take a stab at the team's running back roster, you can find yourself debating two hours worth of scenarios that will make sense to you. Probably everyone. But only one scenario exists that won't be known until the week leading into the regular season. With a collection of running backs and full backs, the Bengals can mix and match any combination. Do you want power? Do you want speed? Do you want hands? Logically, the answer to all three questions is yes. Realistically, the answer is typically influenced by how a respective player impresses upon coaches during minicamp and training camp. Oh, and then there's the injury factor -- which disrupted Rudi Johnson's preseason so much that he was released before the season started. Since injury is a variable that we can't predict, unless we're talking about Chris Perry (which we no longer are, thankfully), it's pointless to include that while conjecturing forecasts.

You know Cedric Benson will return. There's no pencil writing his name into the starting lineup, it's a sharpie. In the final two games in 2008, Benson averaged 141 yards rushing against teams that we'll play three times in 2009. In the games in which Benson rushed for 70 yards or more, the Bengals won. If the question is if Benson is a top-tier running back in the NFL, then my answer is inconclusive. I would like to see him with the team through the off-season and starting the season from the first snap. With his career in Chicago being controversial at best, I believe that it's fair to say we haven't seen the best out of Benson yet. His off-season is quiet. No controversy. Just expectations that he'll improve the season in which marked a resurgence. Maybe even leadership. So I'm keeping the door open regarding comparisons with other backs in the league. However, it's incontrovertible that Benson is the team's feature back. Oh, then there's this.

In another incumbent Bengals running backs fighting for a roster spot file, I think it's a long-shot that Kenny Watson makes the squad. Not because he's done anything wrong, he hasn't. In fact, when the Bengals were short on running backs in 2007, Watson stepped up and recorded two games with 130 yards rushing or more, a three-touchdown game, seven touchdowns overall and 52 receptions. However, 2008 completed some loony bi-polar effect. He only played in 10 games, hurt his hamstring early in the season and was released to make room on the roster. When he signed back, his contributions were limited to blocking and special teams. Later in the season, he suffered another hamstring injury, the second during the season, suffered during practice. Watson has been serviceable with Cincinnati. But considering his role last year, when the Bengals had the worst offense in the league, and his durability, along with his age (31 years old), it would seem that Watson has a severe climb to even be considered on a team that's rebuilding with youth.

Where the interest peaks with formulating a roster of running backs, is guys that the Bengals acquired this off-season. From Bernard Scott to Brian Leonard to Marlon Lucky (a Cornhusker perception of Marlon Lucky can be found here), Cincinnati has options. There's Fui Vakapuna who could double as a fullback and running back, and there's Chris Pressley who can squat a dump truck. A source close to the team told a birdie that told me, the leading candidates to make the squad are Benson, Scott and Leonard. However, we feel that since we're only in May, having such finality is a bit liberal; saying first rough draft would be more appropriate in our opinion.

Either way, competition for running back should be fierce. It's not like last year where the biggest story was Rudi Johnson and Chris Perry's recovery from injury. No. Neither player is here, and now we're looking at a bunch of guys with the potential to take this rushing offense to an entirely new level.