NFL Nation: James Johnson
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.