New Cincinnati Bengals running backs coach Hue Jackson faces the challenge of energizing a mediocre running game.
With six backs on the roster, there are plenty of pieces, which should lead to intense competition when training camp opens July 25 in front of HBO’s “Hard Knocks” cameras.
Jackson is taking over for the legendary Jim Anderson, who retired this offseason after 29 seasons with the club. A smooth transition is expected, mainly due to the players on board.
“It was important to our football team to build a good stable of backs,” Jackson said during minicamp in June. “We wanted to get better at the running back position and were able to draft two talented players in Giovani Bernard and Rex Burkhead.
“The group has done a great job responding to my coaching during OTAs and minicamp. I think we have the right pieces at the position to be special.”
Second-round draft pick Bernard is a dynamic runner with outstanding playmaking ability. He’s a dual threat out of the backfield, rushing and receiving. He was third in the nation, averaging 198.1 all-purpose yards per game (combined rushing, receiving, punt returns) as an underclassmen at North Carolina. Even after missing two games, Bernard managed to pile up 1,981 all-purpose yards and 19 touchdowns his final season.
The 5-foot-8, 205-pound Bernard has been described by some as a poor-man’s Ray Rice but could have enormous potential.
Sixth-round pick Burkhead is a battering ram and finished his college career among the top five all-time rushers in Nebraska history.
“Action Jackson” is hoping to create some of the same magic with the backs as he did with a young trio of wide receivers in Chad Johnson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and a developing Chris Henry. Johnson and Houshmandzadeh were considered one of the most prolific wide-receiving tandems in the league under Jackson’s tutelage. Jackson served as receivers coach for Cincinnati from 2004-2006.
“I’m excited about the group of guys we have,” Jackson said. “BenJarvus Green-Ellis is obviously the guy we’re going to follow, and trying to develop Orson Charles at fullback. He’s a guy we know can play tight end but we’re moving him to the backfield. He brings athleticism and natural pass-catching ability to the position. I think we have the ability to be more creative in the backfield this season.”
Second-year back Dan "Boom" Herron was a standout in minicamp catching and running the ball. He showed good burst, change-of-direction, speed and quickness. Herron received a lot of reps and will likely challenge for the No. 2 position behind Green-Ellis.
“Dan is getting more comfortable in the offense and striving,” he said. “He had success at Ohio State so I’m not surprised. He’s not chopped liver and a good football player. Dan is taking that next step in the process of his career and doing a good job. Overall, we have a good group and it’s going to be a very competitive training camp.”