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Bengals Mailbag: Running back workloads and potential Week 1 heroes

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We take a crack at answering questions from our loyal readers ahead of the Bengals’ regular season opener. Send us yours to be answered in this weekly feature!

NFL: Preseason-Minnesota Vikings at Cincinnati Bengals Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

If the preseason didn’t give you a sense that football is truly back, then the official kickoff of the regular season on Thursday night should have. The Cincinnati Bengals head to The Big Apple this weekend to take on the New York Jets in the 2016 season opener. The venue hasn’t been kind to the Bengals recently, but this is an uber-talented Cincinnati team that has broken many other infamous stigmas lately.

With the season kickoff right around the corner, both excitement and questions are palpable from the Bengals’ fan base. We have received a number of great questions recently, both via Twitter (@CincyJungle, @CJAnthonyCUI and @BengalsOBI) and our Facebook page. Keep your eyes peeled on this weekly feature, our Facebook live sessions, as well as The Orange and Black Insider to receive our answers to your questions!

It’s hard to say yes for a couple of reasons. First of all, Hill is still in Marvin Lewis’ doghouse, even after nine months have passed since the “fumble heard ‘round the world” against the Steelers in the Wild Card game. While he’s looked pretty formidable this preseason, he needs to prove to himself and the team that the fumbling issues are truly a thing of the past.

Second, Giovani Bernard is coming off of a 2015 season where he reached a few statistical career-highs. Bernard had the best numbers in his career in the areas of rushing yards, yards per carry and yards per reception, so that’s hard to gloss over when Hill struggled last year. He’s also proven to be a little bit of a tougher runner between the tackles than many of us gave him credit for.

However, boding well for fantasy football owners of Hill, aside from his gaudy 12 total touchdowns last year, is the inkling that Ken Zampese’s offense will be a bit more run-heavy than Hue Jackson’s in 2015. If true, we might see more formations conducive to getting Hill back to the impact rookie we saw at the end of 2014.

Overall though, I see a splitting of touches between the backs occurring again—especially with Bernard’s receiving ability. I think the real question is if that’s the best plan of attack for the team’s success or not.

I’ve long-believed a couple of things with the duo of Hill and Bernard. First, Hill seems to be a back that gets better with extensive carries or when getting touches late in the game when a defense is worn down. And, I think many fans will agree with me here, but more formations in which the team can get both players on the field at the same time would give defenses matchup nightmares.

In 2014, Hill had 222 carries, only to one-up himself in 2015 with 223. There might be a slight uptick in overall carries because of Zampese potentially relying on the run a bit more, but I don’t foresee Hill cracking the 250-carry mark this year.

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Obviously, Ben is talking about Cincinnati missing tight end Tyler Eifert and linebacker Vontaze Burfict as they start this season. The Bengals have a lot of talented players on their roster, but one of the biggest shames is that two of their best players haven’t been able to play in entire seasons of late.

Of course, there are the usual suspects of Andy Dalton, A.J. Green, Geno Atkins and others we can point to for a successful Sunday. All of whom will undoubtedly play a role in a potential Bengals win, however, with the overall talent on a Jets team that won 10 games last year, both starters and supporting cast members will need to step up on Sunday.

Three starters I’m looking at are center Russell Bodine, safety Shawn Williams and linebacker Karlos Dansby. The former will need to play some of his best ball since entering the league in 2014 against a stout defense, while Williams will have to fill the enormous shoes left by Reggie Nelson. Dansby will need to be a leader in Burfict’s absence, bringing both steady play and preaching composure to the defensive unit.

In terms of reserve players, I’m looking at cornerbacks Chris-Lewis Harris and Josh Shaw who will be playing significant snaps assuming Dennard (who is doubtful to play) is in fact out, and wide receiver Tyler Boyd. Even though the Jets have two talented wideouts in Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, Adam Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick should be able to hold their own.

However, Decker moves into the slot often and Dennard will then be tasked to cover the 6’3” wideout. Boyd will likely be moving around in the offense and he’ll need to grow up fast to assist Dalton and the offense in Week 1. Outside of Darrelle Revis, the cornerback group for New York is pretty thin, and with extensive attention undoubtedly going Green’s way, Boyd should be able to navigate the field and move the sticks.