The Cincinnati Bengals fan base was thrown into a pool of uncertainty when backup running back Samaje Perine left for a bigger role with the Denver Broncos in free agency.
Toss in the uncertainty with Joe Mixon off the field after already being a strong cap casualty candidate, and fans are left wondering who their running backs will be in 2023.
The answer may have been hidden in plain sight all along. The Bengals signed running back Trayveon Williams to a one-year, $1.2 million contract this offseason. He has spent four years with the team, recording 49 offensive touches during that period.
All of this uncertainty has Williams feeling a bit different about what exactly he is fighting for.
“In years past,” Williams told Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com, “it’s kind of been scratching and clawing just to stay on the team. Now there’s a bigger opportunity with a little opening in the running back room. A bigger role. A bigger adjustment. I think I’m ready to make that adjustment.”
Williams is one of the few remaining players from an infamous 2019 draft class that has only seen linebacker Germaine Pratt, tight end Drew Sample, and Williams receive a second contract with Cincinnati so far.
Williams was the first of three sixth-round selections that season. Fellow running back Rodney Anderson got injured in the preseason and was released prior to the 2020 season. Linebacker Deshaun Davis was waived prior to the 2019 campaign and bounced around a bit, but he didn’t even get an opportunity to try and make a team in 2020.
What has made Williams so different from the rest of such a disappointing class? Why is he someone this front office chose to keep around? Running back coach Justin Hill has an idea.
“He’s reliable. He’s unselfish. He prepares week in and week out like he’s going to be the starter,” Hill says. “He’s got the confidence of everybody on the staff. We know what he’s going to do when he gets his opportunity. It’s just a matter of having those opportunities … He got on the field (in front of Chris Evans) only because of how well he played. It had nothing to do with Chris.”
That mentality of putting your head down and just putting in all the work to know exactly where you need to be and what to do on any given play is something we have certainly seen before. It is something Perine embodied to a tee. Williams isn’t just planning on walking into a Perine-like role, though. He plans on putting in the work to carve out his place and legacy on this team.
“I’m trying to change my mindset and preparation for all the little things. That’s why I’m staying here and isolating myself, locked away just grinding and working,” Williams said. “I want to take a leadership approach. I want to be a leader for this team.”
There has been plenty of talk about the Bengals potentially parting ways with Mixon and signing a free agent and/or drafting a running back(s) in this draft. None of that is really off the table here.
However, those of us outside the building may see running back as more of a need than those inside. This team may be willing to bet on Williams being able to carry a much bigger load than his previous four seasons combined. At least he is putting in the work to prove them right.