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Variety will be at the heart of Bengals' offensive identity

8/16/2015
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CINCINNATI -- On their eyebrow-raising six-play scoring drive to open Friday night's preseason opener against the New York Giants, the Cincinnati Bengals placed the football into the hands of five different offensive skill players.

Tight end Tyler Eifert caught a first-down pass. Running back Jeremy Hill had a pair of carries for 15 yards. Receiver A.J. Green had a first-down catch. Quarterback Andy Dalton scrambled for positive yards. And wideout Mohamed Sanu hauled in the game's first touchdown with a goal-line snag that came after he peeled off the line of scrimmage in another one of offensive coordinator Hue Jackson's unique formations.

Single-drive variety like that is at the heart of Cincinnati's offensive identity.

"There's a lot of weapons to utilize for Andy," Sanu said.

Beyond the players listed above, the Bengals also have receiver Marvin Jones back from injury this season. Running back Giovani Bernard presents a quicker, less physical change-of-pace option to Hill's comparatively more thunderous style of play. Rex Burkhead may be the most confounding skill player of the group. Built like a lean running back, he possesses the steady hands and type of short-area shiftiness that make him a viable slot receiver option.

When Burkhead is on the field much like he was on the Bengals' first offensive play Friday, potential dilemmas arise for opposing defenses. Not only is he a threat to run or catch out of the backfield, but he also can line up in the slot and draw favorable matchups depending on which defensive players are guarding the Bengals' remaining pass-catching targets.

"You've got guys that can line up anywhere and play many different positions that are interchangeable within an offense," Sanu said. "That helps you tremendously because you can't game-plan for guys that can line up anywhere."

Jackson's philosophy on variety hinges, in part, on rejecting the notion that players are beholden to specific positions. Although a player like Burkhead may join the roster as a running back, if he possesses tools that can be used in space as a receiver, he'll be used that way, too.

"He takes your talents and uses them in whatever way he can fit them into his system," Burkhead said.

That's why it wasn't surprising to see the bigger-bodied Sanu set up in-line as a pseudo tight end on a goal-line snap Friday. Touted for his blocking skills, having Sanu appear to be a blocker in that situation makes some sense. It also made sense for Eifert to simultaneously motion out wide for a potential fade. The Giants seemed prepared for the latter to happen.

They guessed wrong.

Out of that formation, Sanu and Eifert ran a couple of well-timed routes that led to Sanu getting wide open for his early 3-yard score.

The fact Eifert drew the initial coverage he received on that play speaks to the respect safeties, corners and linebackers will have for him this season. Sometimes, blanketing one option that way can leave another pass-catcher open for a big play. That's yet another way Eifert's return from injury this season -- not to mention Jones' return, too -- can positively impact Cincinnati's offensive attack.

"I think the biggest word is 'X-factor,'" Hill said. "This league is going to be taken by storm by Tyler Eifert and Marvin. Tyler is definitely capable of doing big things. Those two will be X-factors for us and make a big splash."