Roster drama


Brian Leonard made a strong case for a roster spot in Thursday's preseason finale. (Bengals photo)

Posted: 5:40 a.m.

While a senior at Rutgers, Brian Leonard won the Draddy Trophy, otherwise known as the "Academic Heisman," so he's got this Hard Knocks business, well, Knocked.

"That shows all about drama," said Leonard on Thursday night after The Leonard Leap and DeDe Dorsey provided enough drama for an HBO spinoff. "They can take a clip from anything. You don't know what they're talking about. They mention your name, that's just a clip. You don't know what they said before or after that. When I watched it last night, I wasn't upset, but I was like, 'Damn, I might not be here tomorrow.' I came out there and played my heart out."

They all did, really, as the Bengals rolled to a 38-7 victory over the Colts in the preseason finale that is the last shred of tape the Bengals see when they piece together the final roster by Saturday afternoon.

The duel of Leonard and DeDe Dorsey got all the network hype. And, why not? Leonard is the workman-like grinder at 230 pounds oozing with reliability. Dorsey is the speedy welterweight at 205 pounds; dashing but delicate.

But you couldn't Curb Your Enthusiasm *about safety Marvin White. Defensive end Frostee Rucker had his typical *Entourage *around him of a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. There was *Real Time *with linebacker Jim Maxwell's three tackles and three more assists on special teams. *

"It's going to be a tough couple of days," said head coach Marvin Lewis. "I don't know if it could have worked out any better, because of all the opportunities these guys have had, which is what the preseason is designed for. I'm glad we had that. There are a number of positions on the football team up for grabs, including defensive line. There may be 15 spots with 20 guys competing for them."

But, yes, in the end the most riveting story is Leonard-Dorsey. Or Dorsey-Leonard. And, in the end now, they both may make it if the Bengals decide they can go with one fullback and four tailbacks.

At 6-1, 230 pounds, Leonard, the coaches feel, isn't big enough to take a lot of pounding at fullback. But he may be big enough he could get away with it once in awhile so the club could keep both he and Dorsey for special teams as well as complementary roles behind starter Cedric Benson and rookie backup Bernard Scott.

Only two things are certain and quarterback Carson Palmer uttered them both aloud.

"I'm glad I don't have to do that; that's tough," he said of the impending decision. "Fortunately the guys have put up such good film ... all of them have, so whoever it is (that gets cut) I'm sure one of them will end up getting picked up by another team. It's going to be a tough call."

Maybe it won't be that tough of a call if the Bengals can work out a trade with someone before the Saturday cutdown deadline of 4 p.m.

Or maybe they'll keep both.

"In St. Louis, there were two or three really good backs," said Leonard, who already came here in a trade from the Rams. "Here we have five really good backs. I feel the same way. We've played real well in the preseason. There are going to be jobs available. Especially running backs with injuries. Everybody is going to be on a team, I feel."

Leonard did his share with a monster first half that included a monster truck leap over Colts safety Travis Key on a 23-yard run. He added a nine-yard burst on third-and-inches, a four-yard touchdown run, two catches for eight yards, and cheers from Dorsey.

"I was thinking, 'Good job.' He was making a lot of big runs," Dorsey said. "I was excited. I'm excited any time the backs do well. We're a unit. We're not divided by any means. I'm his biggest cheerleader."

Leonard looked over at Dorsey after that first half and saw him pacing and trying to take every snap as well as get on every special team.

"He's a competitor; we're both competitors," Leonard said and when Dorsey came of the edge to block a punt, picked it up and scored from seven yards out in the fourth quarter, Leonard said, "I was happy for him. We're competing, but we're still friends."

Leonard has even converted Dorsey on the Leonard Leap.

"Everybody was trying to put their last bit of film together," Dorsey said. "Brian ran hard. I am a fan of his jump now. Every time I see it, I get ready for it."

Leonard figures he's leaped a tackler 15 to 20 times in his life. It all started when he was setting the state career scoring record at Gouverneur High School in Upstate New York.

"(I was) a bigger back, so first it was in high school, guys going at my ankles all the time, and clipping my ankle and I was falling down," Leonard said. "So I'm like, 'Damn, I'm just going to try jumping over these guys one time.' At first I'd think about it. I'd see the corner coming down low and I'd just jump. But now, honestly, it's really instinct."

Leonard, in his third NFL season, figures he's done it four times in the league, and the third time was last week on the sidelines against his old mates. The only time he got flipped, he says was in college.

If Leonard is fearless, Dorsey came into this season trying to prove he had no fear of injuries.

After his 68 yards on 13 carries Thursday, he now has 553 yards as a Bengal in preseason and regular-season games on 94 carries dating back to 2006.

That's 5.9 yards per carry, kids.

The only reason he isn't a roster lock is because his 2007 season ended after 21 carries and a high ankle sprain and a hamstring injury last year limited him to five carries.

The best ability, they say, is reliability.

"Over the offseason I changed the way I trained," said Dorsey, who went to a gym in Daytona Beach, Fla. "I wasn't getting hit and separating my shoulder or stuff like that. It was little things. Little muscles. So I did a little bit of fine-tuning."

Dorsey ended up coming in bulked up at 212 pounds to get ready for the punishment and he said, "It looked good in the mirror," but he said he didn't feel like himself and got back down to 205.

"I'm used to being really light and cutting," Dorsey said. "Sliding and squeezing through little holes that other people can't get through. I feel like I had a little too much size."

If Dorsey, the converted DB from Broken Arrow, Okla., who got pointed to NAIA when he fell through the cracks, sounds more animated than the spare-speaking Leonard from so far north that Syracuse is considered south, he is.

*Hard Knocks *had Dorsey wired during the Rams game last week and caught him saying "Ooh, good hit, good hit," as he was stacked up. Against the Colts, Dorsey's helmet came off after a hit following his 14-yard run and he says his response was, "What happened? Oh, I don't have my helmet on." It's happened more than once this preseason.

"It's on tight," he said. "I sweat profusely. I perspire."

Dorsey made the Colts sweat by beating the edge with his speed and blocking the punt for a touchdown. He did the same thing two years ago against the Cardinals, the first Bengal to do it in 18 years.

"Coach (Darrin) Simmons gave me the wink; he told me to go for it," Dorsey said of the special teams coach. Simmons confirmed it.

"Oh yeah, I let him go," Simmons said. "He has great timing, and that's what happened on that play. He just flat beat the snap."

The thinking is that Dorsey shares so many qualities with Scott that it's like keeping the same guy while Leonard is a bigger back with a different skill set. But while Leonard is a solid special-teamer, Dorsey has proven he can be spectacular.

"It will shake out," Simmons said again Thursday night.

In front of his locker, Leonard still isn't sure he did the right thing watching Hard Knocks for the first time Wednesday night.

"I probably should have because I played well. I should do it every week," decided Leonard, who was then asked if he thought about the competition. "I thought about it after the show and a little bit this morning, but once the game starts you don't think about it at all. You just think about your assignments. You've been playing since you were a young boy, so doing it all your life;  just go out there and play. The only thing I get nervous about is the unexpected."

Which is maybe why everyone is nervous about cutdown day. The Bengals figure to keep one or two safeties from the group of White, Corey Lynch, special teams leader from last year Kyries Hebert, and rookie free agent Tom Nelson.

White has been forgotten, but he's been fiercely determined and courageous coming back from reconstructive knee surgery seamlessly and quickly and Thursday night he served notice with a team-high five tackles, a fumble recovery and would have forced a Lynch interception with a hit but it was negated by tackle Pat Sims' neutral-zone penalty.

Rucker has also been slightly forgotten, too, since he had only played 12 snaps before Thursday with a badly bruised hip for a third injury in his fourth preseason  But not so fast going with eight defensive linemen and seven linebackers.

Rucker, who can also play tackle, may have rescued that ninth spot with three tackles that included his sack, swipe and recovery of quarterback Jim Sorgi on a forced fumble at the Colts 14. When Rucker is healthy, this is what he does. In 16 regular-season games he has forced three fumbles, recovered two, and has a sack and 45 tackles.

Maxwell was at this same spot last year. A good preseason on special teams didn't translate. If he makes it, it will have to be as the seventh backer.

But those spots aren't going to get the promos like Leonard-Dorsey or Dorsey-Leonard. Not even Lynyrd Skynyrd in the world of HBO, where the final episode is set for Wednesday at 10 p.m.

"I'm going to come in and lift," Dorsey said of Friday, "and then wait."

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