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Bracing for a Battle in the Cincinnati Bengals Backfield

May 4th, 2012 at 3:34 PM
By Chuck Chapman

Cincinnati Bengals' offensive coordinator Jay Gruden alluded to a desire to have a "running back by committee" system. With the number of viable choices now in his backfield, his committee could be listed as a separate department within the organization.

After drafting Ohio State's Daniel Herron with their final pick last week, the Bengals bumped their number of running backs up to eight. That number does not include any undrafted free agent signees such as Colorado's Rodney Stewart, a Westerville, OH native.

Most likely the Bengals will keep five of those, which means training camp promises to be a fierce battle to see which of those players ultimately stick with the team.

Cincinnati signed BenJarvus Green-Ellis as a free agent, presumably to be their featured ball carrier. Barring any injury, he'll be on the roster. Veterans Bernard Scott and Brian Leonard also return. Scott gives the offense some speed on the edge and some special teams depth while Leonard has been quite effective as a third down back catching balls out of the backfield. Both are in the final year of their contracts, but it would be surprising if either didn't make the team.

Add Cedric Peerman to the list as he was the Bengals' nominee for the Pro Bowl as a special teams player. Chris Pressley would also appear safe as the fullback, although Jame Develin will provide competition from the practice squad.

That's all five positions already filled by returning veterans. Unless something happens in training camp, such as an injury or a breakout performance from one of the rookies. 

It is quite possible the Bengals will stash one or two of the young running backs on the practice squad, though. As noted earlier, Scott and Leonard will both be unrestricted free agents following 2012. If the Bengals like what they see out of players like Herron or Stewart, they could keep them around for insurance in the event that one of the five bolts next off season.

This is a good development for the Bengals. First, it's always good to have competition in training camp at any position (with the possible exception of quarterback). The message sent through the draft to the returning backs was "don't get complacent." If a hard charging Herron, Stewart or Aaron Brown causes one of the veterans to up their effort, the Bengals are all the better for it.

Second, in the modern NFL, running backs are subject to tremendous punishment on every play. They are the least durable players in a game where any player can be lost for the season on any play. Having a deep stable of running backs is almost essential for success in today's NFL. Two years ago, Green Bay rode sixth round draft pick and rookie James Starks to a Super Bowl victory after losing Ryan Grant and Brandon Jackson to injury. 

With OTA's scheduled to begin at the end of this month, every workout and every snap will be crucial to the futures of several of these players.

Tags: BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Bernard Scott, Brian Leonard, Cedric Peerman, Cincinnati, Cincinnati Bengals, Daniel Herron, Football, NFL

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