BY GEOFF HOBSON - GEORGETOWN, Ky.
The Bengals backfield is down a few style points with the holdout of Pro Bowl running back Corey Dillon. But they are trying to find some class in their "Cadillac Package," when they roll out their two fullbacks and put one of them, 265-pound Nick Williams, at running back.
If the Bengals go anywhere plush, it always seems like they are chauffeured by a big back. Pete Johnson in 1981, Ickey Woods in 1988, and their last playoff run 10 years ago came when they coaxed Woods, Harold Green and Craig Taylor through a power rotation.
Now some are looking at Williams, who owns three tarantulas, a giant centipede and a four-yard per carry career average at the University of Miami. The Cadillac, with Williams and 245-pound Clif Groce, isn't expected to be the Bengals' main car. But they think Williams' power could be effective enough to take some side trips and keep defenses guessing. And from there, who knows?
Johnson and Woods had smaller, faster backs to complement them, such as Charles Alexander and James Brooks. Told he had no one like the mega-quick Brooks around, running backs coach Jim Anderson pointed to this year's fourth-round draft pick in Curtis Keaton.
"All I know is that when we were successful, we had the combination (of power and speed)," Anderson said. "When you have that combination, that's good. Late in the game, you can pound them, or you can pound them early and then when they're worn down, you go after them. I know we've got a guy who could be pretty close to (Brooks' speed). He's pretty close. He's pretty quick."
Williams is pretty quick, too. For a big man. And he'll be quicker when he gets to 260 pounds for the opener. Right now, he's just trying to find coach Bruce Coslet's good side. He infuriated Coslet when he showed up for minicamp at 280 pounds. Then Williams grossed him out during the offseason when he brought in his pets. Coslet asked him to leave Gemini, Bengal and Godzilla at home for training camp. He hasn't named the centipede yet.
"Bruce didn't like the tarantulas," Williams said the other day. "But they're all right. I guess they're like my lifestyle. They lay back. They're very relaxed. They're not on the hunt all the time. They just lay back at home, chill out. Then when it's time to do something, they'll get the job done real fast, real sharp. And they do an excellent job."
That's where Anderson hopes to push the happy-go-lucky Williams. Anderson loves Williams' athleticism, but he needs him to focus on details in technique and he thinks Williams' body should have more pop. "More explosion," Anderson said.
And Williams is trying. He usually stays behind after practice with Anderson, working on his steps leading to a handoff, trying to find the right angles to snap the 265 pounds into place. Before he became Edgerrin James' lead blocker at Miami, Williams led Harrison High School to Michigan's Class A title while rushing for 1,358 yards and 21 touchdowns. Shortly after he ran a 90-yarder in the state championship game, Miami changed coaches and Williams was no longer the back in a one-back set, but a fullback in the two-back set.
Last year, Williams carried 10 times for 30 yards, but he was never at his best. He looked to be the most effective back in last year's intrasquad scrimmage until he suffered a high ankle sprain that pretty much ruined his rookie season. He missed all preseason and the opener before reinjuring it in the third game.
"Running with the ball is natural for me," Williams said. "I got away from it in college, but I know I can do it. I think this (Cadillac package) in short yardage would be real good. I remember watching Pete Johnson play on TV."
Williams thinks the club is better with Dillon, "but if not, we've still got players who can make plays. if we're going against a speed team, we've got power to pound it. If we're facing a power team, we've got the speed. Either way, we've an answer."
The problem is, none of the candidates have Dillon's experience or record. Brandon Bennett, backed off a few practices this week because he's coming off reconstructive knee surgery, looks to be the best combination of speed and size and came into camp on top of the depth chart. But 235-pound Michael Basnight has been running hard enough between the tackles to be mentioned the same breath. Sedrick Shaw, working in his third different camp in four years, has shown flashes. But Keaton's speed has impressed.
"You've got four or five guys who can play," Keaton said. "I just want to make sure when the smoke clears, my name is mentioned."
At the moment, everyone is getting mentioned. But if history serves, the big guy and the fast guy have the edge.