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Making The Case For Four Running Backs

By Saturday afternoon, all NFL teams are required to pare their preseason rosters down from 75 players to the maximum 53 for week one. This time of year is never easy for any NFL front office, but it is particularly tough and interesting this year for the Cincinnati Bengals. Difficult decisions loom for Marvin Lewis and his staff at safety, linebacker, and defensive line. For the first time in ages, the Bengals have multiple position groups overstocked with real NFL quality talent, and some very good players will be handed walking papers. The most compelling battle of all rages for the final running back spots behind starter Cedric Benson.

HBO’s Hard Knocks series has stoked fan interest in the battle in recent weeks, showcasing the efforts of Bernard Scott, Brian Leonard, and DeDe Dorsey. Scott, a 6th round pick in April’s draft, has been better than advertised and proven himself worthy of the investment. Leonard, a former second round pick obtained for a song in a springtime trade with the Rams has shown power, toughness, and reliable hands. Dorsey, the veteran of the group, has been nothing short of electric and has a big play history.

The three have been so good that Kenny Watson, a longtime Lewis favorite and as reliable as they come, couldn’t make it out of camp. James Johnson, who flashed during the second half of last year, is nothing more than an afterthought. College free agent Marlon Lucky never had a chance.

Based on past history, only two of the three will make the final roster. This is generally considered a “Happy problem” for any coaching staff, but a problem nonetheless.

The four preseason games have done nothing to make the decisions easier. All three average over 4 yards per carry. Leonard has had some big plays in the receiving game. Scott’s had some big runs on the edges. Dorsey’s blocked a punt for a touchdown. They all bring something different but of equal value to the table. All could contribute on game day on offense as well as special teams. Thus, may I make a humble suggestion?

Keep all three.

You don’t need two fullbacks or three tight ends. Daniel Coats, the current starter at tight end has experience as a fullback. Brian Leonard can play the position in a pinch. Once Andre Smith is ready to play, he can be another blocking tight end. Either Chris Pressley or Fui Vakapuna or BOTH will make it to the practice squad just fine, as will either of the young tight ends behind Coats and Chase Coffman. What a second fullback or a third tight end would bring to the team pales in comparison to what these backs can do. The 3rd team fullbacks and tight ends will likely be a phone call away if needed. The same cannot be said for these runners.

When you consider the contributions that Leonard, Scott, and Dorsey can bring to the offense, the return teams and in punt and kick coverage, cutting any one of them seems absurd. Keeping them all will make for a less dramatic final episode of Hard Knocks, but it should yield a more dynamic, more talented, and ultimately better football team.

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2 Responses to “Making The Case For Four Running Backs”

  1. […] I argued in this space at the time that both should make it, and I was right.  They did.   […]

  2. […] I argued in this space at the time that both should make it, and I was right.  They did.   […]

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