Blue skies for backs?

Posted: 9:15 p.m.

In a tumultuous offseason of thunderstorms and tornados, the Bengals backs have run to daylight as Rudi Johnson and Chris Perry have breezed into Paul Brown Stadium like it was 2005, when the Bengals averaged 4.2 yards per carry.

Bengals.com continues to break down each position group in preparation for the June 12-14 mandatory minicamp with a look at both the running backs and fullbacks.

After averaging 3.7 yards per carry the past two seasons, Marvin Lewis has emphasized going back to the grassroots of his Bengaldom revival and hammer the run.

Offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski has responded with a plan to make it more back-by-committee, but still chaired by Rudi Johnson.

How will that committee be composed is the huge question. Who goes from the foursome of Rudi, Perry, DeDe Dorsey and Kenny Watson?

If any?

And if there are three running backs, apparently there isn't any lock for the one fullback spot.

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A LOOK AT THE BENGALS

RUNNING BACKS

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Daniel Coats (6-3, 255, second season, 15 NFL games)
Coats, who is also sticking with his original position of tight end, is working primarily with the fullbacks. As a rookie he showed some toughness as a blocker and some want-to on special teams and the Bengals think he's got some skills that transfer to a position he's never played in his life.

They won't get the verdict until he puts on the pads at Georgetown next month so they can judge his blocking, but the fact he played a little 'F' tight end last year (a tight end lined up as a fullback) helps as he tries to make the transition to playing a lead blocker.

"His biggest strength is he knows what we're trying to do offensively," says running backs coach Jim Anderson.

 

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DeDe Dorsey (5-11, 196, third year, 25 NFL games)
He seems to have bounced back from his high ankle sprain, which occurred on the first carry of his second NFL start, an eight-yard bolt against the Browns that ended his season.

His 8.7 yards per rush on 21 carries would seem to demand he play more. His 45-yard run was the longest by a back since Rudi Johnson went for 52 yards against Cleveland on Nov. 28, 2004 and would indicate he's got the home-run ability the Bengals missed with Perry's injuries.

Does that mean one of them can't make it? At just 23 years old and coming from NAIA Lindenwood, Dorsey is still learning the finer points of picking up blitzes and other jobs without the ball.

"DeDe's got something to prove, too," Anderson says, "and that's because of his size."

 

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Bradley Glatthaar (5-11, 245, Rookie, 0 NFL games)
The running back who strapped Cincinnati Elder High School on his back on the way to an Ohio championship and was a battering ram at the University of Cincinnati tries to make the jump to the next team in town by moving to fullback as a free agent.

He's behind the 8-ball, not to mention all the others. The Bengals only saw him at the May 2-4 rookie camp and because of UC's academic schedule he missed all the voluntary workouts.

But what he's got going for him is the ability to play both spots.

"He's got to be a fullback," Anderson says, "and as a short-yardage, goal-line back at UC, he was effective for them. H's got the body type to be able to do both."

 

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James Johnson (5-11, 202, Rookie, 0 NFL games)
Anderson tips his hat to the scouts and their research as they sifted Johnson out of Kansas State and free agency.

Johnson and Alabama cornerback Simeon Castille are the two CFAs Lewis pointed out last week. Johnson, a JUCO transfer, racked up a 6.4 yards per carry average at K-State with 12 touchdowns.

Johnson probably didn't get drafted because of his lack of speed, but Anderson says he has burst, along with instincts that make him "a natural runner," able to find holes.

 

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Jeremi Johnson (5-11, 260, sixth season, 80 NFL games)
Listed weight is 260, but this isn't the first spring the Bengals are very concerned about the unknown extra weight he has lugged into camp. The Bengals are hoping he returns to 2006 form, a Pro Bowl alternate a year after the Bengals rewarded him with the richest contract ever up to that time for a fullback.

Anderson says whoever is in that spot may get more reps than Johnson did last year.

"We didn't play a lot of regular last year with two backs and we're hoping to get back to more of that with Jeremi in the mix," he said.

When Johnson is in shape and he's the lead blocker in the two-back set and the Bengals are running the ball well, he's a big reason. In '04 and '05, they averaged 4.2 yards per carry.

 

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Rudi Johnson (5-10, 214, Eighth season, 81 NFL games)
That's the roster weight.

Johnson says he came in last month at 225 pounds, about 10 to 15 more than last year, and the word is he's regained the pop in his swivel.

He hasn't gained more than four yards per carry since '05 and that was his signature stat as he bowled and bulled his way to back-to-back franchise rushing seasons.

After coming off an injury-plagued '07 season with a hamstring problem that limited him to nine starts, 497 yards and 2.9 yards per carry, Johnson vowed to ditch the svelte look and he went back into the weight room to build up his body. But for the first time, he also spent time building up his legs.

There are murmurs about his inability to break the big one (he hasn't had a 40-yarder in his last 48 games) but remember this: The Bengals have won a lot of games with Rudi carrying the leather bag. They are 18-1 when he rushes at least 25 times.

"The guy's a competitor," Anderson says. "He's got a lot of pride. He wants to get back where he was."

 

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Chris Perry (6-0, 224, fifth season, 22 NFL games)
Maybe the brightest spot of the spring, his first healthy one since his rookie year of '04, and that tells the sad tale. The team's No. 1 pick that year has 73 career carries, 11 fewer than Tony Davis and 11 more than Michael Basnight on the club's all-time list.

But everyone who has seen him practice the past month says he has looked terrific. They suggest his cuts and jukes are as sharp as they were in '05, his only healthy season when he averaged 4.6 yards on 61 carries and caught 51 balls, just shy of the team record for backs.

A healthy Perry does the obvious: It gives a top 10 offense the kind of Faulkian option that results in top five domination.

The one encouraging thing is Perry has been able to bounce back without soreness two days in a row for practice. Anderson says, "He's been out there every day."

Asked if Perry is back in '05 mode, Anderson says, "That's like a whisper it's so long ago. You can barely hear it. I'm just worried about what he can do now and he does something better every day."

 

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Kenny Watson (6-0, 218, seventh season, 73 NFL Games)
With Rudi Johnson on the shelf, Watson had a career year with highs of 178 carries, 763 yards and 52 catches. With an inclination for getting dinged the previous couple of seasons, the club overcame its wariness of feeding him the ball and he had games of 30 and 31 carries.

Reliable (4.6 yards per his 229 Bengals carries) and versatile (a top special-teams player), Watson is a favorite of coaches and teammates alike.

He hasn't been on the field much this spring with an undisclosed ailment, but Anderson says, "He's doing whatever he can to get back on the field and I'm hopeful he'll be back for the minicamp."

On Wednesday, Watson was dressed for the first time in the four voluntary sessions that were open to the media.

 

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Tyler Whaley (5-11, 252, Rookie, 0 NFL games)
Whaley's story is good enough that they write books about him at Ohio State. From walk-on to national title game starter, he's the consummate college free agent who has already turned one longshot into gold. So don't bet against him even though the blue-chip athleticism isn't there. The Bengals don't care. They like the blue collar.

"I'm anxious to see Tyler in pads," Anderson says. "His nickname is 'Tank,' and we'll see if he truly is one. He's a bright guy and he knows that fullback is a blue collar position."

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