Brian Leonard (Getty Images)
Updated: 4 p.m.
In what looks to be the Bengals' first player-for-player trade of the decade, they picked up their potential backup running back in exchange for backup defensive lineman Orien Harris on Thursday. Brian Leonard, two years removed from the second round, comes from the Rams after spending most of last season on injured reserve with a shoulder injury.
In a conference call with the Cincinnati media Thursday, Leonard says he has been cleared medically and the torn rotator cuff healed well enough that he took part in the two of new Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo's minicamps earlier this spring. Leonard was in the middle of a lift Thursday when he was summoned with the news. He wasn't too surprised.
"Part of the job. A lot of guys are moving from team-to-team each year. I'm just looking at it as an opportunity and I think it's a good opportunity for me. I'm excited about it," Leonard said of the deal. "I had some idea. When a new coaching staff comes in, you always don't know what they want or expect. I was hurt last year. Went through two minicamps, felt pretty good, and I guess they decided to go a different way. Cincinnati wanted me so I'm happy about it."
Although he made some starts at fullback as a rookie, Leonard is delighted to hear the Bengals think of him mainly as a running back.
"I'm looking forward to that. I feel I've got a lot of skills. Catch the ball out of the backfield and run the ball," Leonard said. "I don't think I'm a regular, every-down fullback to just go in there and blow up, but if they want me to do that, that's what I'll do."
The 6-1, 229-pound Leonard showed the kind of versatility the Bengals seek from their third-down backs in his rookie year of '07 when he backed up Steven Jackson with 303 yards on 86 carries for a 3.5-yard average and gained 183 more on 30 catches. Leonard, 25, came out of Rutgers as the 52nd pick in the draft and started seven games in the same year the Bengals took Auburn running back Kenny Irons at No. 49.
Leonard and starter Cedric Benson are here primarily because Irons suffered what appears to be a career-ending knee injury on his fourth carry as a rookie.
"My shoulder is feeling great. All the strength is back and I'm back to normal," said Leonard, who sprained it in preseason and tore it later before he had surgery. "
Leonard, who had a 102-yard game against the Cardinals in a stretch he started four straight in place of the injured Jackson, also played some as a blocking fullback and worked on special teams.
The trade tightens a roster that usually only has three running backs and Leonard's ability to play both backfield positions makes him valuable. Also behind starter Cedric Benson are veteran Kenny Watson, second-year man James Johnson, and sixth-round pick Bernard Scott.
"It's a great opportunity for Brian. He's a classy guy and everybody here wishes him nothing but the best,"Rams exec Billy Devaney told The St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Harris faced a tough task in making a roster that added tackle Tank Johnson in free agency after a season he spent mainly on special teams. Harris, a second-year player, joined his fifth team in three seasons when the Bengals signed him off waivers after he was a training-camp cut of the Saints. He played in 14 games with one start and had 24 tackles from scrimmage.
"He's a 303-pounder who's a pretty good athlete," Devaney told the paper. "He's kind of both (a nose tackle and '3-technique.') But we don't really have a nose and a '3-technique' in this scheme anyway. We just have left and right tackles. He kind of flashed at times last year in Cincinnati."