AFC North: Kenny Watson

The Cincinnati Bengals are looking to add speed and youth to their backfield in this draft to complement BenJarvus Green-Ellis. You can add catching ability to that list as well.

The Bengals targeted running backs 50 times last year, which was third-fewest in the league, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Green-Ellis was targeted 26 times last season, tied for 39th in the NFL.

In his five-year NFL career, Green-Ellis has never been considered much of a receiver. His 22 receptions last season for the Bengals were a career high.

The Bengals, though, obviously want to get more production out of the backfield in the passing game. That's why Cincinnati had expressed interest in a free-agent back like Reggie Bush.

There was a report last month that Bengals coach Marvin Lewis showed particular interest in the pro day workout of North Carolina running back Giovani Bernard, who is known to be an effective receiver. He has good focus and hands, which helped him catch 92 passes over his final two seasons with the Tar Heels. Bernard could be an early second-round pick.

The last Bengals running back to make more than 30 catches in a season was Kenny Watson in 2007. He had 52 receptions that season, which ranked third on the team.

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

The Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers combined for four roster moves Monday.

Pittsburgh signed former Ohio State center Alex Stepanovich to add depth to its offensive line. The Steelers recently lost guard and backup center Darnell Stapleton to knee surgery. To make room on the roster, Pittsburgh released defensive lineman Jordan Reffett.

The Bengals also terminated the contracts of two running backs in Kenny Watson and fullback J.D. Runnels. Watson was a solid contributor for the Bengals in previous years, but recent injuries for Watson and new additions to the position in the offseason made him expendable in Cincinnati.

Bengals crowded at RB

June, 19, 2009
6/19/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

CINCINNATI -- At some point this summer, Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis and his staff will have to sit down and make some tough decisions on the 53-man roster. And several of those tough calls will be at running back.

 
  Nelson Chenault/US Presswire
  Cedric Benson is Cincinnati's clear-cut starter, but the pecking order behind him is still unclear.

Currently there is a crowded field behind starter Cedric Benson, who is one of the few locks at the position to make the team. After Benson, tailbacks such as James Johnson, DeDe Dorsey, Kenny Watson and Bernard Scott all will be vying for carries and roster spots this season.

In addition, Brian Leonard is versatile enough to split time at fullback and tailback to take reps away from the aforementioned group, making for an even tighter competition.

"It's a lot of guys and a lot of competition," Lewis said. "I think it's going to be exciting to watch how it shakes out."

This week's mandatory minicamp will begin to provide some clarity. Not everything can be determined for running backs without pads. But the players who show the most potential on the practice field over this three-day session likely will earn a majority of the early reps entering training camp, as those players will remain fresh on the coaches' minds.

As a team, the Bengals are in need of two things at running back: A home-run hitter and a third-down option. Benson is more of a grinder who averaged just 3.5 yards per carry in 2008.

If Cincinnati can find a quicker, speedy tailback to provide a change of pace and catch consistently out of the backfield, that will add another dimension to the offense.

Watson, an eight-year veteran, showed plenty of that in the past. But he is now 31 and coming off an injury-plagued season. Dorsey also has been unable to stay healthy recently and Johnson and Scott are even more unproven, which is why this summer is so important.

"I think it gives us an opportunity to really take a good look at those guys early in training camp and early in the preseason, and see what guys will end up sticking with us," Lewis added about his running backs.

Benson getting a full season under his belt and the possible development of these backups will be key in Cincinnati's success, as the Bengals are trying to become a more physical team in an ultra-physical AFC North division.

Bengals' weakness: Running game

June, 4, 2009
6/04/09
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Posted by Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson

Only three teams averaged less than the Bengals' 95 rushing yards per game in 2008. The inability to run the ball allowed opposing defenses to take away the deep pass with a deep safety rolled over Chad Ochocinco.

Scouts Inc.: Weaknesses
AFC: N | S | E | W
NFC: N | S
Obviously, having Ryan Fitzpatrick behind center instead of Carson Palmer didn't help either, but the lack of a rushing attack for the majority of the season too often put the Bengals' defense in compromising situations and didn't allow that side of the ball to get enough rest.

Cedric Benson is going to carry the load for Cincinnati this year. He far exceeded my expectations last year and surely I was not alone in thinking he would not make a major impact in Cincinnati after being signed off the street. But he certainly can do some good things. He is a workhorse runner with excellent size and above-average power. His vision is good and he runs behind his pads. Benson is not a heavy-footed runner and does have some ability to turn the corner. He also is an adequate outlet receiving option out of the backfield.

 
  Andy Lyons/Getty Images
  Bengals running back Cedric Benson averaged just 3.5 yards per attempt last season.
However, Benson did average only 3.5 yards per attempt, which is actually even worse than the paltry 3.6 the Bengals managed as a team. He has reached the end zone just twice in his 12 games with the Bengals. In those 12 games, Benson had 747 rushing yards, but 282 of those yards came in the last two games of the season; so for the first 10 games, Benson averaged just 46.5 rushing yards per game.

That can be looked at two ways. In a glass-half-full scenario, maybe Benson finally hit his stride with his new team and it is a sign of great things to come. In a glass-half-empty scenario -- which is where I am leaning -- Benson accumulated that yardage against the hapless Browns and Chiefs in the final week of the season. In Benson's three appearances against the Steelers and Ravens, he carried the ball 30 times and mustered only 104 yards. The Bengals lost those three games by a combined score of 99-23.

Other than Benson, the Bengals have a few options, but no one to get overly excited about. They recently traded defensive tackle Orien Harris for Brian Leonard, a fullback/running back tweener who plays hard but is far from a dynamic option. The other most prominent candidates for carries include DeDe Dorsey, Kenny Watson and Bernard Scott.

Dorsey flashed a little with the Colts, but his five carries for eight yards last year isn't particularly enthralling. Although he is a good guy to have on the roster and can contribute in a variety of ways, Watson was handed the ball only 13 times last year. At best, he is a below-average No. 2 runner, but is really a third running back with special-teams abilities. Scott, on the other hand, does have some intriguing abilities. He is a rookie who has a very lengthy list of off-the-field indiscretions, but as the season rolls along, Scott might be getting significant carries.

Although the drafting of offensive tackle Andre Smith should greatly help pave the way up front, Cincinnati is extremely weak at center. That is a massive problem, especially with Benson being far better suited to run inside than on the edges. Why is it such a massive problem? Well, the Bengals play six of their 16 games every year against the likes of Casey Hampton, Haloti Ngata and Shaun Rogers. Enough said.

Cincinnati also plays five other teams that use the 3-4, along with the Vikings, who feature dominating defensive tackle Pat Williams. That is 75 percent of Cincinnati's schedule against a powerful nose tackle-type opponent. Like I said, this is a massive problem.

Having Palmer back and a vastly improved passing game will open up some running room. However, there is no way around it -- this running game is a weakness right now.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.

Bengals' drops

April, 3, 2009
4/03/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Wrapping up our series of 2008 drops in the AFC North, we take a look at the Cincinnati Bengals.

These drops are for the regular season only and according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Who had the dropsies in Cincinnati?
Player Position Drops REC Drops as a %
of drops+REC
Chad Ocho Cinco WR 5 53 8.6
T.J. Houshmandzadeh WR 5 92 5.1
Glenn Holt WR 4 3 57.1
Chris Perry RB 4 20 16.7
Ben Utecht TE 3 16 15.8
Chris Henry WR 3 19 13.6
Reggie Kelly TE 2 31 6.1
Daniel Coats FB/TE 2 2 50.0
Kenny Watson RB 1 3 25.0
James Johnson RB 1 6 14.3
Source: Elias Sports Bureau

Bengals have options at RB

July, 25, 2008
7/25/08
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Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

The release Friday of Kenny Irons was an indication of how good the Cincinnati Bengals feel about their running back situation.

Starter Rudi Johnson bulked up this offseason and looked strong in minicamp. Backup Kenny Watson was solid and versatile last season, and the Bengals feel they have two promising backups in Chris Perry and DeDe Dorsey.

All of those factors provided the Bengals the luxury of no longer having to wait on Irons. Cincinnati gave Irons nearly a year to recover from his Aug. 9, 2007 ACL injury, and the progress wasn't as good as the team hoped.

Injuries ravaged Cincinnati's running backs corps last season. Johnson battled a hamstring injury that forced him to miss five games. Irons' rookie year never got started when he was hurt in the preseason, and the oft-injured Perry was hurt for the fourth straight season. In the end, the Bengals' offense at times became one-dimensional and finished with a 7-9 record.

But with more depth this year and a little luck heath-wise with Johnson and Perry, the Bengals shouldn't be caught in that position in 2008. By cutting a former second-round choice in Irons, it's clear the Bengals are confident that will be the case.

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