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Leonard, Rams have date

Leonard played the last two seasons for the Rams before being traded to the Bengals this offseason.

Posted: 7:25 p.m.

The Rams come to town Thursday night, so Bengals running back Brian Leonard is playing for more than a roster spot.

It's been more than three months since the Rams traded Leonard to Cincinnati for defensive tackle Orien Harris, a guy that had four tackles in 2008. And Leonard still has some questions about that.

"I was a little surprised, honestly," Leonard said before Monday's practice. "I started (seven) games and thought I had a decent season. The second year ('08) I got hurt in the fourth game of the season and I didn't play that much when I tore my rotator cuff."

Leonard played in only two games last year after he carried the ball 86 times and caught 30 balls following his selection in the second round out of Rutgers. But Leonard was out in the cold with the coaching change.

"I think (the trade) was for the better. With the new coaching staff coming in there, I don't feel like they knew how to use me and I don't think they were going to use me the way I wanted to be used," Leonard said. "When I came to the Bengals, they brought in a running back that runs the ball, catches the ball out of the backfield. I feel like I'm a versatile guy and being able to use me as a versatile guy. I think that's what they're doing."

Leonard has carried it 13 times this preseason for 3.4 yards per carry, about his average in St. Louis. He's got one catch for 10 yards but, as usual, running backs coach Jim Anderson is watching him without the ball. But he doesn't want to pigeon-hole Leonard as a third-down back.

"He understands the passing game, now he's just got to hone it in our system," Anderson said. "He can fit the (third-down) mold, but I don't want to paint him into a corner."

The 6-1, 230-pound Leonard is glad of that because he says he can run the ball. But he also knows his strengths.

"Catch the ball out of the backfield. Pass protect. See the defense and knowing who my guy is," Leonard said. "Third down is one of my strengths."

Offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski doesn't want to make the Kenny Watson comparisons. Watson, cut two weeks ago, was the ultimate unselfish third-down back. But Bratkowski can see the similarities.

"Kenny Watson was a true professional and Brian is the same thing," Bratkowski said. "They're well rounded, both good special-teams players, both can pass block, run decent routes and they're good ball carriers."

He also could have been talking about Watson when he said Leonard is "very steady. He's very professional in his approach. He's what you would call a reliable person. Everything he seems to do he's right were he's supposed to be when he needs to be there."

Anderson likes Leonard because he's "a bright guy," versed in phases of the game other than running the ball. Anderson also likes the competition because he thinks there is going to be a battle at third down with starter Cedric Benson vowing to stay on the field.

"The one thing about Cedric, he can do a lot of things. He's just never been called on to do it," Anderson said. "He's really accepted the challenge, too, to be in the right place not only as a runner, but as a receiver."

Anderson can sense Leonard wants to have a good night Thursday. "I'm sure, but every time Brian Leonard steps on the field he's competing, I'll say that," Anderson said.

For him, it's a no-brainer.

"Absolutely," Leonard said. "You want to play well against the team that didn't want you anymore."

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