Cedric Benson was not a perfect back. He stopped his feet and fumbled too often, had limited catching ability and got grumpy when another man carried the rock. But the guy was durable. He did not get tired or injured very often and his conditioning was extremely reliable. In Benson's case, mileage was never an issue.
The league has firmly adopted the two-back approach to run the ball these days and the Bengals have steered away from the feature-back theory themselves. Gone is Benson, lingering in the free agent market but sidling up to Oakland, reportedly. Here now is BenJarvus Green-Ellis, but the thinking among the Bengal contingent is that the Law Firm will not see the amount of carries that was dumped upon Benson. Instead, Bernard Scott is expected to get an increased workload, and Brian Leonard and Cedric Peerman could also take more hand offs. It sounds okay going into mini-camps and eventually training camp, but I feel the question still remains: can these guys hold up physically to the wear and tear of more carries?
It would only make sense that Marvin Lewis feels good about loosening the reigns on Andy Dalton coming into his second year. All the protection the team provided the ginger last year with a heavy run attack and simple-game planning becomes less of a priority as Dalton masters the offense and the game. The receiving corps looks more formidable entering into this season, and the offensive line has been upgraded at both starting guard positions. I would expect Dalton's pass attempts to grow from last year's total and that alone will help the run game.
Still, this is the AFC North and despite the constant evolution of the passing game, running the ball remains important, especially late in the season. Green-Ellis is a tough runner but he isn't very big. Leonard is a big runner but he's better catching short passes in space. Scott is a fast runner with good vision, but is easily brought down. Peerman is a bowling ball runner but unproven and coaches worry about him protecting the ball. Many thought the team would add a running back as high as the first round in this year's draft. It didn't happen in any round. Michael Bush visited along with Law Firm, but no one expected them to sign both players. Instead, Bush went to Chicago and the Bengals felt better about BenJarvus.
In the last three years, Benson averaged right around 300 carries each season, while Green-Ellis has never topped 230. I had rallied for two years to get B. Scott more touches, but when he finally did, I felt underwhelmed by the outcome. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little disappointed with him last year.
Only time will tell if this is a concern even worth raising, but it feels like the farm finally sent Boxer to the glue factory and are now replacing him with a couple of ponies. Can they pull the weight? Will they hold up this winter? Much depends on the draft horses. They move an entire offense.