Nati On Draft - Part II: Running On Empty

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Cincinnati running back Isaiah Pead avoids the tackle of West Virginia's Eain Smith. West Virginia beat the Bearcats 24-21 in Cincinnati on 12 November 2011.

The fact that Bengals Owner Mike Brown committed Offensive Coordinator Jay Gruden for three years and $3.6M says a few things. Principally, it says for the first time in a long time, the Bengals are committed to keeping winning personalities around even if it means paying for them. However, it might say that Mike Brown is terrified of losing popular personnel in his line-up and consequently, the popular vote in Hamilton County. Regardless, it says that the team is committed to a true West Coast Offense, which will require a significant upgrade in the back field if its going to translate into another post-season run.

How committed? That’s the real question the Bengals have to address this off-season. The Bengals must restore the threat of the run, if not the ability. I offer the variance because last year, Coach Gruden showed that he wanted a very balanced run and gun attack and was willing to use all available resources to achieve it. Will the success of the passing game have an impact on how balanced Coach Gruden wants to the ground to be going forward? The way this position will be addressed in the coming weeks will be very indicative.

Fortunately the personnel landscape is wide open for whatever course of action the Bengals decide they want to take. Three huge free agents hit the market this year – Ray Rice (Baltimore), Adrian Foster (RFA, Houston) and Matt Forte (Chicago). Though the Bengals scooped up the last disgruntled Bears running back, I don’t think it will happen twice; in all likelihood, these guys will sign hefty contracts with their current teams. Michael Bush (Oakland) can’t stay healthy; neither can Peyton Hillis, who is an uncertainty even when he is active. Meanwhile, Marshawn Lynch (Seattle) could present a very interesting opportunity. While there is a bit of a “buyer beware” tag associated with him because his explosive nature has only surfaced for about twenty games in only the past season and a half, Lynch is probably the only realistic free agent that the Bengals would consider as an available upgrade instead of simply resigning Cedric Benson.

That status quo is pretty clearly understood. Interestingly enough, Benson’s numbers really haven’t changed over the past three years. In fact, Benson still broke 1000 yards and was only 44 yards shy of last years total (1,111 yards) despite the fact that he had 48 fewer carries and missed a game because of his suspension due to a barroom altercation in Texas during the lockout. That reduction of touches was a by-product of sharing touches with back-up running back Bernard Scott in most second quarters and third downs with specialty running back Brian Leonard. It wasn’t the running back by committee that was as irksome, but rather that Benson, nor anyone else, could any longer be counted on pick up a yard or two on a third and short conversion. It was this that has become the crux of the problem at the position – the Bengals have to give Andy Dalton a more consistent ability to pick up a new set of downs or punch in a goal line touchdown.

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