It was a matter of time, but we waited. Rex Burkhead suffered a knee injury and the foregone conclusion that BenJarvus Green-Ellis was gone had stalled... briefly. Holding onto the veteran running back for preseason insurance, Cincinnati had no more reason to hold him. So they announced his release on Friday, converting a $2.3 million salary into $700,000 of dead money. The team's continued investment at running back continued this year when Cincinnati applied a second-round selection on LSU running back Jeremy Hill -- the Bengals used a second to draft Giovani Bernard last year.
Cincinnati is riding the incline of a running back roller coaster.
While the team settled their running back position with Cedric Peerman, Rex Burkhead and Ryan Hewitt (this year's H-Back), Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis reflected on Green-Ellis' departure Saturday.
"It’s good for Benny to go somewhere and get an opportunity to play," Lewis said. "He handled the whole thing very classy through the spring. We kept him here for a while to give us insurance if anything happened to anybody and he did a nice job."
The mothership also reflects:
Green-Ellis had been the lead back for two years and decided to stick with it to see if he could make the club. He refused to be drawn into any controversy and declined during the spring and summer to do media requests.
Green-Ellis and Burkhead were in a proverbial competition for the fourth spot at running back heading into training camp this year. Unfortunately, being the bell-cow running back worn on Green-Ellis. Even last year, his speed appeared in a state of degradation. Second and third efforts on short yardage situations were there... but no where near the production that he had in 2012 when he led the league short-yardage conversions. Running back isn't about power anymore. It's a multi-dimensional position that demands fresh legs, deception and enough quickness to avoid big hits. Green-Ellis didn't have that anymore.
In the meantime, Hill earned his preseason paycheck on Thursday by generating 160 yards from scrimmage on 26 touches -- 20 of those were the ground for 90 yards rushing.
"Well, Jeremy has to understand what it’s like to be an NFL running back," said Lewis Thursday night. "We aren't five deep. When we get to Sundays and we go down to 46 guys, and if he’s going to be the guy, then he’s going to have to be able to shoulder the load. You can get some good conditioning out here tonight. He’s going to learn to run with his pads down and protect the football. They were good snaps for him to learn with tonight."
In addition to running the football, Hill finished the preseason tied for the team-lead with 10 receptions -- six against the Indianapolis Colts. And the Bengals love that aspect of his game.
"Well, he had a couple balls he could have caught a turned into better plays (before the Colts performance). I don't know if the lights got him, but the ball got up on him and he didn't make the catches. Part of the reason we brought him here was his ability to receive the football. We feel really good about that."
Hill is an exciting prospect that figures to add additional excitement at running back. With 41 attempts and 190 yards rushing, Hill averaged 4.6 yards rushing per attempt during the preseason. As a team, the Bengals averaged 4.4 yard/rush, a one-yard decrease from last year, but well over the team's preseason averages in 2010 and 2011.
Is he a good Green-Ellis replacement? Maybe better. He's younger. And he avoids the big hit.