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Tuesday update: Busy day for backfield with hope for Leonard

Posted Aug 10, 2010

Updated: 8:50 p.m.

GEORGETOWN, Ky. - The Bengals unveiled a wrinkle in Tuesday’s practice when they moved the already versatile Dan Skuta from linebacker to fullback during a busy day for the Bengals backfield.

Preliminary indications from the exams for third-down back Brian Leonard’s injured foot looked to be promising although incomplete. It doesn’t look like he’ll need surgery and the hope is he’ll miss only the first couple of games of the regular season. But that apparently isn’t definitive and the club will have to see how he responds in the next few weeks.

Head coach Marvin Lewis wasn't particulalrly helpful, maybe because nobody knows for sure.

"He's doing well," Lewis said when asked for an update.

When could Leonard be back?

"He's doing well," Lewis said.

And, as expected former Bengals running back James Johnson signed Tuesday morning and took the place of rookie running back Cordera Eason, who was waived/injured after he tore tendons in the foot-ankle area in Sunday night's game.

While it looks like Skuta is going to stay with the offense for a couple of weeks, the move appears to be designed to make him the backup to Fui Vakapuna since he’s already a prominent special teams member as well as a guy that plays three positions on defense. And it was mentioned to him before Vakapuna hurt his shoulder and has been out a week and is looking at another week out.

But it could always end up more than that if Vakapuna’s shoulder doesn’t bounce back. He says he doesn’t expect to be back for at least another week and the only other fullback on the roster is rookie free agent Joe Tronzo.

“This has been in the works for Dan since the spring,” Lewis said after practice. "He’s a valuable member of our team. The more he can do with his versatility that he has shown, the more he can help us. We know he’s going to be a part of the defensive football team and he’s vital part of our special teams and he can possibly be another option for our offensive team.”

Skuta traded a black No. 51 for a white No. 47 and he also got a new helmet Tuesday. But that was in the works before the position switch. His old helmet had dug into the bridge of his nose so much that it has left a square patch of raw skin. Bengals president Mike Brown told him he better get a new helmet.

“You can’t miss it walking around the locker room,” Skuta said. “Everybody has seen me on the sidelines bleeding. He just said, ‘Hey, go get a new helmet.’ ”

The 6-2, 250-pound Skuta played fullback his senior year back in high school in Flint, Mich., as well as defensive line and some safety before he went to Grand Valley State. The Bengals and Packers worked him out at fullback as well as linebacker before the 2009 draft, when he didn’t get picked and ended up signing with the Bengals.

“(Lewis) said they’re going take a solid look at me for a couple of weeks to get a better look,” Skuta said. “I just told Coach Lewis I want to play ball. That’s my stand on everything. I like playing linebacker. I like playing defensive end. Any time you can be doing something other than your normal responsibilities, it’s just going to make things better for you. It’s just one more thing I can do and everybody says the more you can do the better off you’re going to be. I just want everybody to realize I can not only do a lot of things, but I’m good at a lot of things.”

Don’t expect this to jumble up the roster numbers. The Bengals are probably still going to keep one fullback and Skuta will probably be counted as one of the seven linebackers.

JJ RETURNS: Johnson, the running back the Bengals signed as a free agent out of Kansas State in 2008, had a wide smile after practice. He admits he's still wondering why he left after the season and signed with the Vikings. He said Minnesota cut him around minicamp with a tweaked hamstring.

Johnson was simply looking for an oppurtunity. After showing flashes in the last month of the season in '08, he spent all of '09 on the Bengals practice squad and when Chester Taylor left the Vikes he thought there might be a better shot since Cincinnati did well with Leonard, Cedric Benson and Bernard Scott.

"The grass is not always greener on the other side," he said. "I started second-guessing myself when I did it, but I'm glad to be back. I'm comfortable here and I made a lot of friends."

Johnson converted some big third downs in the 14-0 win over Cleveland at the end of the '08 season and has shown an ability to catch the ball. Like running backs coach Jim Anderson said Tuesday, with Leonard out everybody has to think third down.

"All the guys that we have now are in a position to play third down," Anderson said. "They have to buckle down and get the fine details of what we're doing on third down."

The Bengals were surprised when the 5-11, 205-pound Johnson left. They liked him as much as he liked them.  

"James is experienced in what we do. At this stage it's a benefit for him and a plus for us because he knows it and it's a short learning curve for him to catch up to what we're doing offensively," Anderson said. "He does catch the ball. The thing about James is that he has good speed. He can accelerate through the hole. The biggest thing is focus and disciplne to read the keys and then make the play. Let it happen."

Johnson says he's been running three miles a day with his girlfriend to keep in shape, and before he went to camp with the Vikings he was working out with Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles and Rams running back Danny Gorrer, high school teammates from Port Arthur, Texas.

SLANTS AND SCREENS

» SAM linebacker Rey Maualuga (hamstring) and kicker Mike Nugent, who missed the past week with a lower-body issue, returned to practice. So did rookie defensive end Carlos Dunlap (concussion). Out were safety Chris Crocker (ankle) and cornerback Brandon Ghee (unknown), as well as running back Cedric Peerman (hamstring).

» Crocker was relieved Tuesday after he twisted the right ankle he had surgically-repaired over the offseason Sunday nightt "I think it's a good thing I tweaked it," he said, because it held up. He doesn't think he'll be out all that long.

» It was 96 degrees but felt like 102 during when practice ended at 5:20 p.m. according to Weather.com and Lewis and trainer Paul Sparling teamed to make it bearable during the two-hour, five-minute session. They took plenty of breaks and Sparling had his staff on alert with the water and instructed the players to take their helmets off whenever they could.

How hot was it?

A good 45 minutes after practice wide receiver Matt Jones was talking to a reporter and just as he was about to get on the steps leading to the conference center, he went down like he was shot with a cramp in his leg. With Brandon Johnson leaning down to help, an S.O.S. went out to the training room and Nick Cosgray and a couple of friends were there in two minutes. Three minutes later he was carted into the locker room with the help of trainers and some reporters and all reports Tuesday night indicated he was fine.

"This has never happened to me before," Jones said as he waited for the cart, flat on his back, shading his eyes from a still hot 6:15 p.m. sun.

How hot was it?

Wide receiver Terrell Owens caught a TD bomb from quarterback Carson Palmer and there was no chest bump between Owens and Chad Ochocinco. Both were wearing long white pants, Owens his signature spandex and The Ocho with sweats, and they were both grinding.

"They say if you wear black you absorb the heat. You wear white to reflect heat," Palmer said. "Just trying to stay cool. Guys were doing whatever they could."

Palmer admitted he doesn't have the spandex look: "T.O. can pull it off, but not C.P."

  

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