Though it hasn't been chronicled very much on HBO's "Hard Knocks", the running back position is a tightly contested battle for the Bengals. BenJarvus Green-Ellis will be a safe bet on the final roster as the "thunder" of the team's attack, while rookie Giovani Bernard is the "lightning". However, behind those two there are a group of guys all fighting for the chance to make this team.
Green-Ellis was given only three carries in the preseason opener against the Falcon, but averaged almost five yards per carry, while Bernard underwhelmed with his 2.8 yards per carry average. In fairness to Bernard, he did contribute in the passing game with three catches and had a rushing touchdown in his first NFL game action. Four players are vying for two spots on the roster behind Green-Ellis and Bernard, with three getting action against Atlanta.
Bernard Scott was inactive, as he is rehabbing an injury he suffered in the middle of the 2012 season, but Cedric Peerman, Dan Herron and Rex Burkhead all played in the second half. The coaching staff did a great job giving each of the three active backup running backs an even shot, giving them anywhere from seven to nine carries each.
Burkhead was the only one to have an impressive yards per carry average by getting almost six yards per pop. However, Burkhead was the last back to enter the game and one could argue that he was running against a defense that had fringe roster players. Herron had some nice moments, as did Peerman, but Burkhead shone the brightest of the three.
Peerman and Herron have proved their worth on special teams in previous years, which definitely helps their cause, but Burkhead also had a tackle on special teams against the Falcons. Given the past history of head coach Marvin Lewis' preferences in his players, he will undoubtedly prefer the backs he keeps on the final roster to contribute in this area.
For Saturday's matchup against the Tennessee Titans, the three backs will need to showcase their skills once again and it's possible that Burkhead gets a shot earlier in the game against stronger competition, though we're not certain. The team knows what it has in Peerman, so I would expect to see a multitude of carries from Herron and Burkhead when the backups enter the game.
Two facets that these backs will need to improve on is their pass-catching contributions and blocking capabilities. Burkhead was proficient in these aspects in college, though he didn't record any catches in the preseason opener. These areas are the secondary nuances of the position that could be the make-or-break plays that will pave their way to the final roster. And, if we were taking bets at this point, Scott would be a prime Physically Unable to Perform List (PUP) candidate, given his rehab status.