BY GEOFF HOBSON - GEORGETOWN, Ky
After Friday's preseason opener, here's a look at the roster fight without Pro Bowl running back Corey Dillon and the players' years of experience. If Dillon sits out, the Bengals will most likely keep five of the seven backs. If Dillon signs, they could keep six.
- LOCKS AT FULLBACK: Clif Groce (4), Nick Williams (2) LEADING THE RB PACK: Brandon Bennett (2), Curtis Keaton (R) INJURED BUT MAKES IT:Michael Basnight (2) BATTLING: Sedrick Shaw (4) **PRACTICE SQUAD MATERIAL: *FB Ricky Brown (R)
The camp buzz after Friday's 21-20 loss in Buffalo is the 265-pound Williams. Running out of the tailback spot, Williams scored twice on one-yard touchdown plunges out of the Bengals' big back package and he has emerged as a factor in the pursuit of a running back.
The Bengals figure to use Williams as a running back mainly in short-yardage and in goal-line situations, but he can be a nice change-of-pace guy in the regular offense if he adheres to coach Jim Anderson's demand to run with more abandon.
Plus, Williams is hugely versatile. Not only can he play running back and fullback, but he could also replace a tight end in certain situations. And he runs the base running plays the way the coaches have drawn them up. They would like to see him run better pass routes, but they're excited about him. Groce continues to be a quiet, intense leader who does nothing but good things.
Anderson likes the way Bennett (4.7 yards per on Friday's seven carries) and his rec onstructed knee have responded. Like Williams and Basnight, Bennett runs where the coaches want him. Bennett remains the backfield's best receiver, while Keaton is both exciting them and frustrating them with his speedy creativity. Jim Lippincott, the Bengals' director of college/pro personnel, says next to Ki-Jana Carter, Keaton is the quickest and fastest back he's seen here since his 1992 arrival.
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"We want Brandon to get comfortable and get his feet under him and not overwork him," Anderson said. "Curtis has the great feet and he's doing a good job being creative. He's like a pencil that needs to be sharpened. Attention to detail. But I was pleased with his execution and assignments (on Friday)."
Keaton bounces outside too often, but they feel that can be corrected and that he's got a good career in front him once he gets a grasp of the running angles. They like Shaw, too, but he's more of an outside guy and it remains to be seen if he can excell in an off-tackle running game.
They love the rookie Brown, who plays with the heart the size of Texas. But where do you put this Longhorn? Probably on the practice squad, after he clears waivers, they hope. That's the second reason Keaton won't go on the practice squad. Someone would swipe him off waivers. The first reason is he'll help at some point this season.