TDBH: Carter assumes role as starting RB

Posted Mar 5, 2018

This Day in Bengals History - March 6, 1997

The star-crossed career of Bengals running back Ki-Jana Carter takes another twist tonight when word leaks out of San Francisco that the 49ers have signed Bengals leading rusher Garrison Heart. Nearly two years after the Bengals trade up to take Carter with the first overall pick in the draft, he is now the bell cow, to use a favorite term of club president Mike Brown. Bengals officials spend the next few days putting the spotlight on Carter after last season’s 2.9 yards per carry mire him in fourth place on the team’s rushing list despite having the second most carries with 91. Now that two years will have passed since the devastating ACL injury cost his rookie season of 1995, Carter, the Bengals feel, is ready because they don’t make much of an effort to re-sign Hearst.

“He’s got to know coming into camp that, because his name is penciled in at the top of the list, he’s got to show that he belongs there,” says head coach Bruce Coslet. “I saw some flashes, especially at the end of the year. I think he was figuring out what it took to prepare for a game.”  The Bengals offer Hearst a three-year deal worth nearly $4 million back in December as he’s completing an 847-yard season but he doesn’t take it and the Bengals recently lower the offer because the running back market is levelling off. “I’ve played for two teams who haven’t done well in the postseason but now I have a chance to play in some play-off games,” says Hearst, an Arizona draft pick. The Bengals figure the guy they made the centerpiece of their franchise has to play and Carter does show a nose for the goal line with eight touchdowns. “It’s about time Ki-Jana stepped up,” says Jim Lippincott, the Bengals director of pro personnel. “There’s no more excuses. This is his second year off surgery and at this time of the year we hope he’s working out and getting ready for the season. This is a big year for him, which could end up a big year for us.”

Hearst gets into his playoffs with back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons in 1997 and 1998 and is at the height of his career when he rushes for 1,570 yards in ‘98 as he beats the Packers in the playoffs with 128 more. Then in the next round he suffers a horrendous broken ankle that costs him two seasons with complications. But he becomes the first player in NFL history to come back after suffering avascular necrosis with an amazing 1,206 yards. The 49ers, 10-22 in two seasons without him, go 12-4 in 2001 and he wins NFL Comeback Player of the Year.  By that time, Carter has been gone from the Bengals for two seasons after never really being the main guy. A month after Hearst leaves, the Bengals draft running back Corey Dillon in the second round and he surpasses Carter with a 1,000-yard season on his way to becoming Cincinnati’s all-time leading rusher and a three-time Pro Bowler.

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