Bengals trying to diversify running game
Six years passed before the Bengals drafted a running back in anything other than one of the last rounds, an indication the position wasn't all that much of a priority.
Now they're getting serious about diversifying their running game.
The Bengals took tailback Giovani Bernard from North Carolina in the second round last week, showing a determination to address one of their shortcomings. They hadn't drafted a running back higher than the sixth round since 2007, when they took Kenny Irons from Auburn in the second round.
It became a priority after last season, when the Bengals failed to run for at least 100 yards in 10 games. They didn't reach 100 yards in four consecutive losses that led to a 3-5 start. Cincinnati recovered and reached the playoffs, but failed to run for 100 yards in any of the final three games, including a first-round playoff loss at Houston.
Time to change. Coach Marvin Lewis took a special interest in the running backs at the various pre-draft workouts.
''I try to pick out a position each year where I want to go and see the guys, and running back was my position this year,'' Lewis said.
The running back spot has been in transition in Cincinnati the last few years.
The Bengals became a grind-it-out team in the late 2000s, with some success. They couldn't throw it enough to get beyond the first round of the playoffs. They let Cedric Benson leave after the 2011 season, looking to get a running back that was more diversified and a better fit for their new West Coast offense.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis signed from New England, giving them a reliable starter known for running between the tackles. They had Bernard Scott as a change-of-pace back, but he suffered hand, ankle and knee injuries that limited him to two games last season.
Cincinnati finished 18th in the league in yards rushing. The Bengals ran for only 14, 47 and 80 yards in the final three games.
''We can't have one facet of our offense rolling and the other facet kind of sluggish and the other half picking it up,'' said Green-Ellis, who finished with a career-high 1,094 yards. ''We've got to have all those things working in continuity together.
''That's what was the biggest (shortcoming) about us. We started off and our passing was very good, our run was shaky. Then our run is good, and our pass is shaky. That can't happen. We have to have them going together at the same time.''
The Bengals haven't had much luck lately in drafting running backs in the early rounds. They made Chris Perry their top pick in 2004, but he was hurt and managed only 606 yards in four seasons. Irons tore a knee ligament in preseason as a rookie, sidetracking his career.
The Bengals would like to have a running back that can blend into the passing game. Green-Ellis caught 22 passes for 104 yards last season. No other running back caught more than 11 passes.
That's what made Bernard appealing enough that the Bengals were willing to get him in the second round. He caught 45 passes in 2011 and 47 last season at North Carolina.
''We're looking for a guy who would fit what we do, who can catch and run with it,'' running backs coach Hue Jackson said. ''But you also have to be able to pass-protect and be multifaceted. The young man has that skill set.''
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