Posted on: November 18, 2009 9:03 pm
Larry Johnson is a Cincinnati Bengal. It was obvious that he'd land on his feet after the Chiefs cut him, but the expectation was that he'd have a decent-sized role. Not a starting job, but at least something where he'd get 10 touches a game.
Head coach Marvin Lewis threw water on that the day before he signed but eased a little on Johnson being "a fourth running back" with "a chance to be active" the day after he signed.
It's understandable for the Bengals to put Johnson behind Cedric Benson, but behind Bernard Scott and Brian Leonard? A veteran running back with some gas in the tank riding behind a rookie who's returning kickoffs and a third-down back known more for his hands and shoulders than his feet?
It might not make sense to you, but it makes perfect sense to the Bengals.
"The guys who have been here, we can't underestimate them," said Bengals running backs coach Jim Anderson in an exclusive Q&A with CBSSports.com. "Bernard Scott did a heck of a job, Brian Leonard has done an exceptional job for us on third downs. Jeremi Johnson's done a good job blocking for us. So we can't underestimate those guys, the focus can't go totally on Larry. He's coming in and helping us and it's our job to get him ready and prepared so that he can do the very best so that he can help us."
Anderson called the Bengals' offense "a different language" and stressed to CBSSports.com that it will take time for Johnson to not only understand the playbook but to "be exact in what situations we put him in to be successful."
It's not like Fantasy Football -- the Bengals simply can't put him on their lineup, hit the submit button and expect him to play well. When asked when and how Johnson will contribute, Anderson was vague.
"Only time will tell," he said.
But this doesn't mean the Bengals don't know what they have in him. Obviously they know his strengths and do have expectations on when he'll be a contributor.
"He's a veteran player. He's got skins on the wall and he's played this game, and he's a big guy," Anderson said. "And when the weather breaks here in the north, it's a plus for us to have a big guy."
Of course, Benson is no twig, either. Anderson said he doesn't expect his role to change and that he's not scared of opening Benson up to injury by continuing to feed him the ball so many times per game. That includes Benson's hip injury that forced him to take mental reps in practice on Wednesday.
"I don't think you get scared. Sometimes it's all about the tempo of the game and how you perceive the tempo of the game," Anderson said. "He doesn't take the whole workload, it just appears that way in regards to running the football and some other things. But other guys are sharing the load and that takes a little bit of the burden off of him.
"It's not how many times you carry it, it's what you do when you do carry it."
Anderson had a bright outlook on rookie Bernard Scott's future. It was Scott who took over for Benson in Week 10 at Pittsburgh. While his numbers playing on offense weren't anything to write home about, 33 yards rushing on 13 carries with a 21-yard catch, Anderson sees his athleticism and desire to play any way he can.
"He knows how to play the game and he was a highly productive guy in college. We know he can bring those things to us in every phase," Anderson said. "And the big thing with Bernard, like he showed, is that he wants the opportunity to play. He wants to make the most of it."
Does this mean that Scott will either start or see relevant playing time this week at Oakland?
"You can't just put your finger on those opportunities. You don't know when they're going to happen," Anderson said. "But that's the whole thing about this game: It's best to be prepared and not to be called on than to be called on and not be prepared."
And that's advice that applies to Larry Johnson as well.
"We had a good first day [with Johnson] and we're just looking towards what we're going to put in for the rest of the game plan and take that and digest that and take that to the practice field and execute," Anderson said. "All the little things you've got to put together, and we'll see how it all turns out."
Week 11 should give us some indication.