Updated: 6:20 p.m.
Because he knows the scheme and the players and had a hard time leaving Cincinnati in the first place back in 2006, Naufahu Tahi says he'd relish becoming the Bengals fullback after signing a one-year offer sheet Friday totalling $1.4 million that his Vikings have a week to match.
But as of dinnertime Friday, Tahi, a restricted free agent, hadn't yet heard if the Vikings would match and said he's "playing it by ear. I don't know what is going to happen."
David Lee, Tahi's Cincinnati-based agent, said it's a win-win situation for his client because while he's extremely comfortable in the Bengals system, he appreciates the Vikings for giving him the most playing time of his career. A Tahi signing would be a huge boost for the Cincinnati running game because of his physical presence, blocking and running.
"The systems are pretty similar," said Tahi of the lead blocking with the Bengals and Vikings. "A lot of zone stuff, the inside zone and the outside stuff. I don't think it would be much of an adjustment at all."
The man who beat out Tahi for the fullback spot on the roster in that '06 training camp, Jeremi Johnson, basically saw his time in Cincy end before last season under the weight of his struggle to keep off pounds. The only fullback on the roster is transplanted tight end Daniel Coats. The Bengals rushed for less than four yards per carry for the third straight season this past year and they are trying to shore up the lead game with some experience.
"When I had my visit, we talked about me being the lead blocker for Cedric (Benson) and whoever else is running the ball," said Tahi of his Paul Brown Stadium appointment in the first couple of days of free agency three weeks ago. "Opening up holes."
"He knows what the Bengals are trying to do on offense and he fits into it," said Lee, who said the deal calls for a $500,000 bonus and a $900,000 salary.
The 6-0, 254-pound Tahi had his breakout season last year blocking for Pro Bowl running back Adrian Peterson while also catching 16 passes for 37 yards. He ran it six times for 15 yards in all 16 games that included five starts. If the Vikes don't match, the Bengals don't have to give up compensation because they signed him as a free agent out of BYU.
In the '06 preseason finale in Indy, Tahi moved to tailback for the first time as a pro because of injuries at running back and barged for 54 yards on 11 carries. The Bengals cut him the next day and put him on the practice squad before releasing him later in the season.
He found it funny when asked about running the ball these days.
"I didn't expect any carries playing with a guy like (Peterson)," he said with a laugh. "I can do it and I did it in college, but I know people are looking for me to block."
Tahi is another in the line of solid locker-room guys on which head coach Marvin Lewis has staked the '09 season. He's friends with such players as Jon Fanene, also a Lee client, as well as Domata Peko, and spent a training camp taking handoffs from Carson Palmer and working with running backs coach Jim Anderson.
"I wasn't really surprised I got cut, but I thought I would be on the practice squad," Tahi said. "When I did get picked up (off the squad a few weeks later), it was real hard to leave. But I really felt like my career got going this year. It's the most reps I ever got (in the NFL) and the first time I started, and I got more comfortable as it went."
Tahi said it doesn't concern him that the Vikes went after Weaver.
"It's a business. If they think he's more powerful than me, more power to Weaver," he said.