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Low-Water Mark: Bengals Depth Concerns

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During the offseason, when games and seasons are played out on paper, the roster of teams seem as concrete as the stadiums they play in. Yet when a player blows out his Achilles, or arrested for assault, suddenly we realize that rosters are made up of mortal men and that anything can happen to them. When these nasty lightning bolts do strike, depth suddenly springs to the top of the list of concerns.

In the Bengals case, if most of you are like me, when you heard of Cedric Benson's recent troubles, you began calculating the number of games that he would likely therefore miss due to suspension. As information surrounding the case trickles in, it now seems less likely he'll miss much time if any, but that doesn't change the fact that I felt a creeping uneasiness at the thought of Bernard Scott as the featured workhorse for four games. This worry sparked my imagination to wonder of other positions that could create further anxiety to the already fragile Bengal-fan psyche.

As for the Benson situation, as noted, there doesn't seem to be that proverbial bell-cow waiting in the wings should he be forced to miss time. I am a big Bernard Scott fan, and desperately want to see him featured more in the offense this season. But I also think he showed in Oakland his propensity to lose yards on many carries. While Scott also showed his explosiveness on a 61-yard run in that game and finished over the century mark, the Raiders stopped Bengal ball-carriers behind the line 10 times that day, and the offense's rhythm was disturbed as a result. Scott is not a straight-ahead runner that can give you at least three yards every carry. Instead, he is a patient back who needs a moment to see the field before plowing forward. He is best at slower developing plays like screens and draws that allow him a more thorough evaluation of where to run. 

Brian Leonard has more of the physical make-up to be a bruiser back, but he never showed much productivity on first and second-down hand-offs last season. As a third-down specialist he is remarkably effective, and the extra effort he regularly displays makes the heart of a fan swell, but he should be limited to his specialist role, otherwise he is average at best.

There is also Cedric Peerman somewhere on the roster. Having never seen Peerman run, I know very little about the guy, but I know he is fast (4.45 in the 40-yard dash), never fumbled in college, and was a dangerous kick-returner at Virginia. He also jumped 40 inches vertically at the combine. As impressive as it is, I'm not sure what that's good for in a running back other than slamming the ball through the uprights after a touchdown. Peerman's scouting report from college mentions his low center of gravity, and that, mixed with his straight-line speed, not to mention decent size (220 lbs.), makes him the best candidate to replace Benson should the need arise.

With all due respect to all three men mentioned, that makes me nervous.

Obviously, if anything serious happens to Carson Palmer between now and February, panic would become the proper mind-sate in regard to the team, and honestly, the Bengals have showed little interest to this cataclysmic possibility. Most would agree that while J.T. O'Sullivan always looks good in the preseason, no one really believes in him if it ever became serious. We all labored through a painful season of Ryan Fitzpatrick learning the vigors of the game, and placing O'Sullivan in the same predicament seems almost, dare I say, an even worse-case scenario. And while I want Jordan Palmer to be a capable NFL quarterback, the road there seems infinitely out of reach for him; it takes more than good genes to rise to the top. 

The other position that would become of baby-pool depths should someone go down is at linebacker.  Rookie and projected backup Roddrick Muckleroy has already broken his hand, Rey Maualuga is coming back from a broken ankle and an apparent drinking problem, Dhani Jones continues to tour the world undergoing dangerous physical tasks that can only wear down his aging body, and Keith Rivers has yet to prove that he can play an entire NFL schedule. Brandon Johnson is an excellent backup who often times looks like a starter, but beyond him, the bench looks bleak. Abdul Hodge is best left to special teams, and Rashad Jeanty is an overachiever whose chances of making a final roster spot seem to be circling the drain.

Moving defensive end, Michael Johnson, to an outside linebacker spot, shows that team management is concerned about linebacker depth as well. This move is an intriguing one as The Giraffe has the athleticism and speed to play the position and there is plenty of depth along the defensive line to spare, but the question remains, does he have the instincts to play in space? Until now, we only knew him as a pass-rusher whose best trait was to bat passes into the air. He can still speed rush from the outside linebacker spot, and it allows Zimmer to show off some 3-4 schemes from time to time, but if injuries mount at linebacker, will Johnson be asked to do more than rush the passer?

Every team has worrisome spots on its roster, and some will be snake-bitten in those very areas, but when that happens, it falls on the coaches to prepare the next man standing to do the job well enough.  I've written about the quality of the Bengals coaching staff, and my esteem in them remains as high as ever, but at the quarterback, the running back, and the linebacker positions, good coaching may not be sufficient. The Bengals would be wise to keep an eye on the waiver wire to add more bodies to these thin ranks. 

So here is to a shot of good luck and a dose of smart-decision making; keep your bones intact and your noses clean, boys, we need as much help as we can get this year.

Mojokong—one who needs no backup...yet.