What will Bengals gain with L.J.?

According to reports, former Chiefs running back Larry Johnson is heading to Cincy today and is expected to sign a contract for the rest of the 2009 season—and we shouldn’t be surprised.

From my point of view, this is a direct move based off of the injury suffered by feature back Cedric Benson yesterday in the Bengals’ 18-12 win over Pittsburgh. This offense has been able to move the ball and produce points throughout the course of the season due in large part to their ability to run the football and control the clock on offense. And in the AFC North, this is the exact brand of football that wins.

But, what does this move mean for L.J.—a player who was looking for work after being booted out of Kansas City for being, well, as unprofessional as they come?

Johnson needed a team, and at this point of the season, running backs are signed for one reason—and that is to provide depth due to injuries. He isn’t going to walk into Cincy and suddenly start piling up carries, because a 7-2 team that has just swept the Steelers isn’t looking for a feature back. They have that in Benson, and he will resume his role whenever his injury allows him to. L.J. is merely insurance.

Sure, he could see some game action along with rookie Bernard Scott—who filled in for Benson yesterday—but I can’t see him playing that big of a role for the Bengals.

However, that isn’t the hope for Johnson. He needed a job—an active job—in the league, and Cincy does provide that. The hope for L.J. and his camp is that he can get enough on film to persuade customers come this offseason. He needs to show the league that the 2.7 yards per carry average that he had in Kansas City was more a byproduct of Todd Haley’s offense and the lack of talent around him than it was his dwindling talents as a running back in the NFL.

Yes, L.J. could prove me wrong by going out and producing for the Bengals behind a better offensive line, better receivers and a nasty defense under Mike Zimmer that is providing field position and scoring opportunities for Carson Palmer and the Bengals. But I still don’t see it.

Regardless of my opinion and yours, this is still an opportunity for Johnson to mix in well with a locker room and a head coach, because despite the talents we may or may not think that L.J. still has, he has a duffel bag full of red flags that will be going with him to Cincy—and those can cause issues.

But, beyond any of that, Johnson is just another free agent off the street brought in during a season to fill in for an injured star.

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