Updated: 9:55 p.m.
GEORGETOWN, Ky. - Even without rookie Bernard Scott (shoulder) and veteran Kenny Watson (illness), the Bengals' stable of running backs put on a nice display as the offense answered last season's debacle in this game with a 22-16 victory over the defense in its intrasquad scrimmage Friday night here at Georgetown College before an estimated crowd of 6,500.
From starter Cedric Benson's 12-yard run on a sweep puncuated by a juke of safety Roy Williams to James Johnson's 17-yard "catch" off a shovel pass to Brian Leonard's five-yard spin off safety Marvin White to the goal line, the coaches sent a message that they are quite serious about establishing the run this year.
"That's the attitude. We're fully committed to running the ball," said offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski. "We had to get the message sent tonight."
One man's message can be another man's grafitti. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer was appalled after his unit allowed 119 yards on 21 carries. A stingy set in goal-line in which the Bengals scored just one touchdown on six tries didn't help his mood.
"Yeah, we'll let them run down there and then we'll stop them," Zimmer said. "We sucked. We didn't fit the runs right ... missed tackles by the safeties. It's too much. Horrible. Horrible."
But Bratkowski also knew he had an advantage with two starting linebackers out and two backups scratched. Abdul Hodge started in place of middle linebacker Dhani Jones and Jim Maxwell started at WILL in place of Keith Rivers and Brandon Johnson.
Leading 18-13, quarterback Carson Palmer hit fullback Jeremi Johnson off play-action for a 17-yard gain in the flat for two points, and Leonard put the ball on the goal line with a five-yard run in which he bounced off White's big hit in the hole.
Safety Chris Crocker gave the defense a lift and the 5-3 lead in when he picked off Palmer at the 5-yard line. There didn't seem to be any white jerseys in the area where Palmer threw, which was toward the sideline, and Crocker returned it 39 yards.
"I was throwing it to Chad (Ochocinco) on a quick little route and Chrs Crocker did a good job reading it and jumping it," Palmer said.
Palmer wondered if Crocker knew the play was coming because it's that time of year, but he said he shouldn't have thrown it.
"We talk about formations and being more aggressive," Crocker said. "I'll just say that me and the cornerback talked about the possibilities. We were just in a good play. I was just able to anticipate what he was trying to do."
There's no question what the Bengals were trying to do. They ran it 21 times and threw it 12 and while they'll throw the ball all over the yard in Saturday's Mock Game that is played in shoulder pads with no tackling, the real stuff was done Friday.
"Nice. Three words afterwards," said offensive line coach Paul Alexander when asked about his young line's physicalness. "It was fun. We've got a young group that hasn't accomplished anything, has everything to prove and you can just see they'refilled with effort and determination and finish. It's been inspiring. Our backs are really understanding their courses and fitting it together. I like right now the teammwork between our line (and backs) and our receivers are right now blocking better than ever."
Including The Ocho. He sprung Andre Caldwell loose for a six-yard gain in the red zone on a wide receiver screen in which he took out cornerback Jamar Fletcher.
Another running back, DeDe Dorsey, gave the offense the lead for good at 11-10 when he took a handoff from backup quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan and followed right tackle Dennis Roland and right guard Andrew Crummey for a 38-yard touchdown run aided by a few missed tackles and a stiffarm of safety Chinedum Ndukwe.
Dorsey finished with 45 yards on five carries (he also had an 11-yard gain) in the Backup Benson Derby and Leonard's versatility came as advertised with 22 yards on five carries and one catch for 16.
The backup offense jacked it to 18-10 working against a lot of the starters and another young running back shone. James Johnson converted a third-and-15 when he wriggled through the middle on a shovel pass for 17 yards and added runs of five and four before O'Sullivan pulled a play-action fake, rolled left and used a block from rookie fullback Chris Pressley to score the nine-yard touchdown.
"We've got a really competitve backfield and that's without Bernard Scott and Kenny Watson," Palmer said. "That's probably the most competitive position in camp by far. I don't know how many spots there are for a halfback. I want to say three or four. There are seven tailbacks that have a legitmate chance to make this team, which is unfortunate because they're all great players."
In the past the Bengals have kept three tailbacks and a fullback. But with the devastation at tight end and Ben Utecht's status up in the air, they could very well keep two fullbacks. Johnson, left on the street until back in April, is conjuring up memories of '03-'07.
"He just needs to keep getting back into his '04, '05 form," Palmer said. "That was when he was at his best. He's not quite there yet, but he's working to get there. I think we all have confidence he'll get back to that shape and be playing that way again."
As he walked off the field, Johnson allowed, "Not there yet. I'm waiting for the preseason games."
The defense did have its moments. Rookie defensive end Michael Johnson racked up two straight sacks against newly acquired left tackle Augustus Parrish and Crocker's pick spoiled a drive in the red zone.
Benson popped one up the middle and then took a sweep right for 12 yards when he made Williams miss. Palmer also added a 13-yard completion over the middle to Caldwell off play-action before the interception.
Palmer also tried a play-action on the scrimmage's first series, a bomb down the middle to Ochocinco. Palmer later said The Ocho was wide open for a touchdown and that cornerback Leon Hall was called for pass interference.
"Chad ran a great route," Palmer said. "Easy, wide open touchdown. Leon knew he had to tackle him."
Shayne Graham missed two of his first three chip shots wide left and then boomed three straight from 48, 52 and 54 yards. Rookie Kevin Huber averaged 48.8 on six punts with a long of 56 yards, two inside-the-20, and no touchbacks.
INJURY UPDATE:The linebacker corps joined the tight ends as the thinnest group when the Bengals took the field for Friday night's intrasquad scrimmage at Georgetown College.
Starters Dhani Jones (excused) and Keith Rivers (sore muscles) were scratched, as was rookie backup Rey Maualuga, also with sore muscles. Rivers' backup, Brandon Johnson, injured his hamstring early in camp and was also out.
Rookie running back Bernard Scott also began his career on the sidelines. Late in Thursday's practice he got popped in the shoulder on a play in the backfield. Veteran running back Kenny Watson was also out with what was believed to be an illness, so plenty of snaps for veteran DeDe Dorsey
The offensive line isn't exactly flowing with depth, either. Backup center-guard Dan Santucci went back to Cincinnati to get his foot evaluated and backup guard Evan Mathis was on the bench with muscle tightness.
Also shelved were defensive end Frostee Rucker (hip), safety Corey Lynch (undetermined), defensive tackle Pernell Phillips (illness), as well as tight ends Daniel Coats (ankle) and Ben Utecht (concussion).
Jones is attending the funeral of Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson and is expected back for Saturday's Mock Game.
Utecht's status is still up in the air for the moment even though he has left the hospital. Chris Murray, Utecht's agent, said a few minutes before the scrimmage that his client has tests scheduled with neurologists Monday and Tuesday to study his concussion history that dates back to his days in Indianapolis.
"Right now we're only partially informed," Murray said. "You can't have a conversation until we're fully informed."