Monday opened the Bengals voluntary conditioning program and the first look at an extremely interesting running back situation now that they've apparently moved past Cedric Benson.
At age 28, sixth-rounder Bernard Scott heads into his fourth season with a 4.0-yard average and the sense that he's been underused with just 247 carries to gain exactly 1,000 yards. The newcomer at the spot, former Patriot BenJarvus Green-Ellis, turns 27 in July and heads into his fifth season as an undrafted collegian with the same 4.0-yard average on a little more than twice as many carries with 510. Scott has caught more balls (29-26), but for fewer yards, 292-165. BJGE has no career fumbles, Scott two.
In offensive coordinator Jay Gruden's back-by-committee plan, the backs may not get more work than they have before, but it may be more high-profile. Whatever they get, they want to be able to do it all.
Although Green-Ellis has been effective during his career in three areas the Bengals running game has struggled in the past several years—red zone, short yardage, and goal line—he doesn't want to be pigeon-holed.
"I'm looking at all three downs," The Law Firm said.
"They want to give us a chance as backs to contribute in all aspects of the game – the running game, the passing game, so that's fun," he said. "Not just running the football but a chance to go in and contribute as a player. Not a chance to be able to do one or two things but be able to do everything and contribute in all ways of the game. Not only the running game but also the passing game and blocking or whatever. I'm excited to have the opportunity to do that."
Meanwhile, Scott says he's looking to become more of "a student of the game." Because of the new CBA rules, he hasn't been able to talk to coaches about football so he burned some CDs and put them on his iPod to study.
"I knew what I was doing before, but I wasn't a student of the game and that's what I'm trying to improve this offseason," Scott said. "So it's basically like having two quarterbacks in the backfield. I want to know where the blitz is coming from. What's the hot read? I want to know the whole offense. I feel like the skills are going to take care of themselves."
Throw in a potential draft pick and there's going to be some scrambling for roster spots, given the Bengals traditionally keep four running backs, and Brian Leonard has a niche as a third-down back and Cedric Peerman has become one of the club's top special teams players.
"The team is going to do what the team is going to do," Scott said. "I'm going to make sure Bernard is coming into camp mentally and physically ready to fight for the position. That's what I'm worried about."
Green-Ellis is a nice pickup for a lot of reasons. He's got the rep as a great team player and he's got the stats of a back that can provide an upgrade with 0.0 career fumbles and that 4.0 average. Plus, he's got plenty of big-game experience (four playoff games that include a Super Bowl) and the point of view from one of the NFL's perennial winners.
He offered a sheaf from Bill Belichick's playbook.
"This is my first day here," BJGE said. "I've got to get a chance to know all of those guys. A team is not built on just one day. It's got to start right here. It starts today in our offseason program and we are going to contend, OTAs, minicamps and training camp and so forth and so on. Every team right now starts at the bottom; we are all 0-0. We just have to outwork everybody else."
MOVES: On Monday, the Bengals signed up a restricted free agent in Clark Harris and an exclusive rights free agent in Jeromy Miles, two of their top special teams players.
Since joining the Bengals during the 2009 season, Harris has played in all 43 games and made 395 snaps on punts and placekicks with no unplayable deliveries. Miles led Cincinnati's special teams with 15 tackles last season and was the club's special-teamer on last season's Pro Bowl fan ballot.
Kicker Mike Nugent hasn't signed his one-year franchise tender of $1.7 million and he very well may not do it in time to participate in the voluntary workouts. After he worked out on his own last offseason during the lockout, he broke several single-season Bengals records in a career season. If Nugent doesn't sign it by July 15, he and the club can keep talking but can't sign a long-term deal until after the season.
Right guard Bobbie Williams continues to rehab his broken ankle post-surgery and he still has a locker and greeted his teammates Monday morning before leaving as the workouts began.
With two veteran guards signed into the fold this past month in Travelle Wharton and Jacob Bell and the Bengals expected to draft a guard at some point next week, Williams's future in Cincinnati remains murky.