As NFL training camp nears for the Cincinnati Bengals, there's one ingredient still missing from an offense that appears ready to focus on enhancing it's rushing attack in 2014.
An established fullback is something the Bengals have rarely had since Jeremi Johnson paved the way for Rudi Johnson and co. from 2003-2007 (and a swan song in 2009).
Chris Pressley and John Conner were solid in their brief stints, but neither truly fit what Jay Gruden wanted in his offense: a pass-catching FB that was a decent blocker in the run game.
The Bengals moved Orson Charles from tight end to FB in hopes he could become that, but to this point, that project has yet to materialize. He was also arrested for wanton endangerment this offseason, putting him in closer to the roster bubble that he barely escaped last season.
As for other guys currently on the roster, Nikita Whitlock is an undrafted free agent out of Wake Forest that played defensive tackle in college. He moved to FB during the offseason and even played that position in the All-American Bowl.
Ryan Hewitt also signed this offseason as a UDFA out of Stanford. Hewitt was regarded as the fifth or sixth-best FB heading into the 2014 NFL draft and even had some seventh-round projections.
Hopefully, one of those guys steps up and wins the job in camp, as it appears likely the Bengals will carry a FB into the regular season.
There aren't a lot of FBs on the open market, but there are some proven guys to watch for if the Bengals want to sign one:
1. Le'Ron McClain
2. Greg Jones
3. Vonta Leach
4. Michael Robinson
McClain was cut this offseason by the San Diego Chargers. He actually had a 2.1 grade via Pro Football Focus last year, the 12th-best of any FB. However, that came in just 154 offensive snaps. He has 94 career receptions, but caught just two passes last year.
Jones was once considered one of the best fullbacks in the NFL, as he has helped the Jacksonville Jaguars maintain one of the league's best rushing attacks. Jones helped All-Pro running back Maurice Jones-Drew become the 2011 leading rusher in the NFL.
He played in all 16 games last year for the Houston Texans, but was let go this offseason.His 2.3 grade from PFF was the 11th-best of any FB. He 131 career receptions, but caught just five passes last year.
Leach was cut this offseason by the Baltimore Ravens, so he's familiar with the division.Unfortunately, he's not nearly the blocker he once was, and he was ranked 63 out of 64 FBs by PFF in 2013. A big reason for that though was that Leach played behind one of the worst offensive lines in football last year while blocking for an ineffective Ray Rice.
Robinson was released by the Seahawks during final cuts last offseason after the use of a prescription medication shut down his kidney and liver and caused him to lose 30 pounds. On October 22, the Seahawks re-signed him to a one-year deal after his health improved. He played in 174 snaps and had a mere .8 grade from PFF. Robinson is thinking about retiring though, so he may not be an option.