From the day Rex Burkhead first joined the Bengals, he's found it challenging to not only find playing time, but to just hold onto a roster spot.
It's in no way an indicator of the third-year running back's ability, but more so the depth of the position at which he plays. Jeremy Hill established himself as one of the best young backs in football last year and Giovani Bernard is one of the NFL's most versatile backs.
Cedric Peerman is now in his sixth year as one of the Bengals' special teams aces. He's not too shabby as a runner either, with a 5.2 yards-per-carry average for his career, though most of his yards have come on punt fakes as the gunner.
That's also not accounting for BenJarvus Green-Ellis being here for Burkhead's first two NFL seasons. That forced Burkhead to beat out Daniel 'Boom' Herron for a roster spot. Herron is coming off a 2014 season in which he was the Colts' starting running back for the second half of the year, while also notching 298 all-purpose yards in three playoff games.
Instead of sticking to RB, Burkhead is getting some run at WR in OTAs. It won't be an easy transition, but Burkhead did catch 60 passes for 507 yards and five scores in four years at Nebraska. However, even Burkhead knows there's a big difference between catching passes out of the backfield and being lined up at WR.
"When you're coming out of the backfield you're usually going against a linebacker and you're usually going against straight-up man. Or it's a simple zone you can read off of," Burkhead said, via Cincinnati.com. "Now you've got cover-2, quarters, cloud coverages, and other things you have to learn about. And you're running against nickel, dimes with corners and safeties. So it's new, especially when I'm running some routes I've never run before."
We'll see if he can play the position well enough, despite never playing it full time in college or the pros. Burkhead did get significant snaps at WR during the wild card playoff loss to Indianapolis last year. He caught three passes for 34 yards and had this nice run on a WR reverse:
In nine games during the regular season, Burkhead caught seven passes for 49 yards. From all indications, he's making the transition quite well in OTAs after playing their sparingly in 2014 following a host of injuries to other Bengals pass-catchers.
"He's (Rex) very talented," Jackson said, via Cincinnati.com. "You have a talented player on your team you see if you can find a way to get him involved. He can do a little bit of everything. He can run the ball, too. He can catch, protect. He's one of the better players on our team so we will see what we can do with him."
If Burkhead were to stick only to RB in 2015, he'd likely be a gameday inactive several times. Even when active, he'd likely be nothing more than a special-teams contributor. However, the questions at WR could lead to him getting a few snaps there if he continues to work and develop at the position.
We're still a long way from the regular season, but it's nice to see the Bengals possibly finding a way to get a good player on the field more often.