Cincinnati Bengals starting running back Cedric Benson could be suspended for his latest arrest in Texas last week.
If so, the backfield actually would be left in capable hands.
Brian Leonard and Bernard Scott have evolved in the offense and will be counted on more this season to share the workload with or without Benson in the lineup.
“I feel like I can do anything,” said Leonard, who reminds some of a young John Riggins, the Hall of Fame back who starred for the Jets and Redskins. “The coaches believe I can do it and feel comfortable with me at any position. My reps have increased, and I’m expected to be more involved in the offense. I’m a team player and will do whatever is asked of me.”
The 6-foot-1, 225-pound Leonard returned to his college alma mater Rutgers after minicamp to prepare for training camp. The running back is doing some speed training to show more quickness out of the backfield, and route running. Leonard shed a few pounds this offseason but still maintains the size to take on larger defenders when lead blocking and protecting the quarterback.
After a 30-catch season in 2009, Leonard is expected to be an integral part of the passing game.
“Brian has a key role in our offense,” running backs coach Jim Anderson said. “He’s a guy that you don’t want to paint into a corner. He did a tremendous job for us on third down. But yet when we called for him to play on first and second downs he can do that as well.
“He has a tremendous amount of versatility and he can add to our offense. We’re counting on him to play at an even higher level this season.”
Leonard is playing in the final year of his rookie contract and is a guy the team obviously holds in high regard. That being said, there has been no dialogue between the Bengals and representatives for Leonard regarding a contract extension. He’s scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at season’s end.
The Riggins comparisons have resulted from Leonard’s rugged running style. Could he be the second coming of “The Diesel” in the Bengals offense?
“I’m my own person but do share some of the same similarities as Riggins,” Leonard said. “He was a hard runner and had good hands out of the backfield. That’s what I feel like I do, make one cut and get up field, break a few arm tackles and make a couple of guys miss. That’s me. Hopefully, this is a breakout year for me.”
Leonard said he watched a lot of film on Riggins in college and patterned his game after the legendary back. Those are some big shoes to fill for anyone, but the Bengals coaching staff believes in the running back’s ability.
“You don’t want to compare a guy until it’s over and then you write the final chapter,” Anderson said. “But right now, if he wants to be John Riggins then that’s good with me. Riggins was one tough guy, and Brian Leonard is one tough guy. You put those two together and we have something. I think Brian is a little more versatile than John catching the ball. We’re looking for big things out of Brian this season.”
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