With the lockout nearly over and with free agency, training camp, and the preseason now poised to begin in what’s sure to be a whirlwind, don’t-blink-you-might-miss-something August, attention can finally be given to the matter of how the 2011 Bengals roster will be built.
It’s fairly settled on the defensive side of the ball, with an established, firebrand coordinator leading an impressive group of cagey veterans and impressive young talent . The offense, of course, is another matter. There are questions here all over the place, and a strong “offseason” for the “O” will be vital to the team’s chances in 2011.
As we discussed earlier this week, the good news is that new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden is ready and raring to go, energetically challenging everyone in the organization to step up and as he stubbornly refuses to accept the notion that they cannot succeed without Carson Palmer.
All that’s good. Even inspiring.
But besides the fact that Gruden will more than likely trot out a brand new quarterback and primary receiver in Cleveland for the opener, there’s the rest of the offense to consider. Perhaps most important is running back position, as nothing will help a young quarterback more than a reliable ground attack. Gruden is known as having a penchant for developing strong running games, and his West Coast Offense is predicated on having a stable of talented and versatile backs to make it work.
The Bengals need backs that can move the chains, put the offense in 3rd-and-manageable situations, and provide that priceless checkdown safety-valve in the passing game. In short, they need James Brooks, Ickey Woods, and Corey Dillon. Especially Brooks.
Up until yesterday, everyone has assumed that one guy the team could count on would be Cedric Benson. It’s seemed a forgone conclusion that Ced would return for a fourth season in the Queen City, and would lead the Bengals rushing attack into the new era. But with news coming that Benson was arrested today in Texas, and with league discipline of some kind seemingly imminent, it’s time for us to re-evaluate the position.
Indeed, the team probably needed to add at least two ball carriers in free agency anyway, with Benson and Brian Leonard both unsigned free agents. Without them the team has only Bernard Scott, Cedric Peerman, and seventh round draft pick Jay Finley to carry the rock—not enough firepower by any estimation.
Looking at a group of backs to pursue, the team would be wise to look for guys who match most of the following criteria:
- Young, with low mileage
- Experience in the West Coast Offense
- Productive in the past
- Reliable and experienced pass catcher
Thus, if the team does not bring back Benson and Leonard, they have some real work to do. While a lot of speculation has centered around Ronnie Brown and Joseph Addai, I’d contend that the Bengals will shy away from these players with their age and injury history (and potential price tag) being more than they care to assume.
I’d argue that they’ll be looking for players with a lesser resume but with more tread on the tires, and with conceivable upside even if they don’t have the resume, particularly as a pass catcher.
That said, here are a few names worth mentioning that the team might target for both their rushing and receiving acumen (at least I would):
- Tim Hightower: The Cardinals have used Hightower off and on, and he’s gotten mixed reviews from the Cardinal faithful. With Beanie Wells on the team, Hightower may look for other opportunities. Hightower has caught 118 passes in his career for 801 yards (6.8 average) and is only 25 years old.
- Jason Snelling: Snelling produces for Atlanta on a regular basis as both a running back and receiver. He has a 4.1 yards per carry average for his career, and has 82 catches for 651 yards (7.9 average) to go with it. Snelling is still young at 27.
- Steve Slaton: Word ‘round the campfire is that Slaton is on the trade block as he’s fought injuries the last two years. With Arian Foster having a death grip on the starter’s role, Slaton needs a new home, and Cincy would be great for him if he could recapture his fantastic rookie season. Slaton has 97 career receptions for 805 yards (8.3 average) and is only 25. He rushed for over 1200 yards as a rookie as well, and personally abused the Bengals the last time they played.
Of course, the Bengals could surprise and go after the best in this class, DeAngelo Williams. He’d immediately upgrade the offense and be worth the risk, but I don’t see that happening.
In the end, look for the Bengals to bring back Benson despite his recent legal entanglements, and add another guy in free agency, preferable one of the above.