All purpose

October 18, 2005

Chris Perry recorded his first NFL touchdown Sunday in Tennessee.

Even with Carson Palmer crunching numbers like no Bengals quarterback before him and wide receiver Chad Johnson dancing toward a third straight AFC receiving title, it is running back Chris Perry that has people thinking he can take this offense to the next level with his teeming versatility.

He ended his Sunday with more catches than any running back in the NFL. If not for two penalty flags, he would lead them all in receiving yards. Even the remarkable Brian Westbrook.

“I don’t think we’ve really had anybody get to the corner like he can since I’ve been here with his speed,” said center Rich Braham, who has seen them all in 12 years. “Oh man, he gets to that corner in a hurry.”

Palmer: “He’s electric on the field. He can make anything happen at anytime.”

Perry planned to drive Monday to Indianapolis to watch some friends when the Colts played the Rams on Monday night. One of them is the Rams’ Steven Jackson, the running back the Bengals were supposed to pick instead of Perry in the first round in 2004. But Bengals linebacker Brian Simmons sees another Rams running back when he sees Perry.

“Not to say a Marshall Faulk,” Simmons said in simply comparing styles. “I think as he grows in the offense and gets a little more mature, and gets more of a grasp, I think that’s the type of edge he’s going to give our offense and that type of attack.”

NFL’s TOP RECEIVING RUNNING BACKS (Not including Monday night):

Chris Perry, Bengals: 27 catches for 185 yards, 6.9 average, long of 12, 1 TD
Lamont Jordan, Raiders: 26-205, 7.9, 28, 1
Brian Westbrook, Eagles: 25-292, 11.7, 62, 3
Domanick Davis, Texans: 20-144, 7.2, 27, 2

Chris Perry, Bengals: 10 catches for 86 yards, 8.6 average, long of 12, 0 TDs
Kevin Faulk, Patriots: 6-52, 8.7, 22, 0
Chester Taylor, Ravens: 6-35, 5.8, 11, 0
Alvin Pearman, Jaguars: 5-62, 12.4, 19, 0
Domanick Davis, Texans: 5-47, 9.4, 27, 2

Some called Sunday’s 31-23 win in Tennessee Perry's breakout game with nine catches for 45 yards that teamed very solidly on the perimeter with running back Rudi Johnson’s weekly 4.4 yards per inside smash. And Perry’s first NFL touchdown, a one-yard catch with 33 seconds left in the half, underscored how important he’s been in Palmer’s hard-drive perfect two-minute drills.

But Perry won’t buy the breakout game bit. There is a gnawing sense in the Bengals locker room and in his heart that he is still trying to steady himself after missing virtually all of his rookie season last year with a deep abdominal pull.

“I hope to have a lot bigger games than that,” Perry said. “I want 200-yard multi-purpose games. I’d like 100 yards (rushing or receiving), not 100 yards multi-purpose. That’s nothing.

“Nine catches for 180 yards and two touchdowns,” is what Perry has in mind for a breakout game.

His 43-yard catch and run and 10-yard bolt on a run to the left corner for a touchdown ended up being nothing because of holding calls, but that would have inched him toward the 200-yard mark with 88 receiving yards and 38 rushing yards.

As it is, when he got on I-74 Monday, Perry’s 27 catches led all NFL running backs and his 185 receiving yards trailed only Oakland’s Lamont Jordan by 20 for receiving yards by AFC backs. His 10 third-down catches lead all NFL backs.

Of course, if the 86-yard touchdown catch-and-run against the Vikings that got called back stands along with the 43-yarder, his 314 would-be receiving yards leapfrog Westbrook’s NFL-leading 292.

“That’s just God trying to keep me humble,” Perry said.

But Perry carries the steel-belted confidence of a playmaker. When he bounced his would-be touchdown from inside to outside and found daylight on the left edge, he held the ball out in celebration a few yards before reaching the pylon.

We had seen that before.

“I’m going to do it. I did it in the preseason,” Perry said. “Once is a coincidence. Two times, y’all just have to think I know what I’m doing. I’m not going to get caught at the goal line.”

Big-time offense

The numbers are far from humble. Perry’s athletic ability and Palmer’s year of experience are the two biggest improvements over last season for an offense that is ranked third in the NFL.

“We do a really good job in our offensive scheme keeping (the defense) on their toes,” Palmer said. “Not every single time he goes in does he get a screen (pass) because every once in a while we put Rudi back there, and run that play with Rudi that they’re expecting Chris.”

Palmer hopes the coaches expand his role with more routes in the passing game. After Sunday, he thinks the only linebacker in the NFL that can cover Perry is the guy they just saw in the Titans’ Keith Bulluck.

“We haven’t really got him in one-on-one situations a whole lot,” Palmer said. “Hopefully, we can do more of that. If they play Cover One and leave the linebacker on him ... we don’t have a ton of routes for him just yet. Hopefully, we’ll get that in the future.”

Perry is looking to the future because, truth be told, he just doesn’t feel like he’s there yet physically. Not after carrying just twice last season, and not being able to work out in the offseason because of two surgeries to fix the abdominal muscle.

“It feels good enough to play,” said the still skeptical Perry. “I haven’t played a full game yet. Stamina will be a problem through the whole season. I’m going to try and not let my body wear down. I have to get used to playing again, get the muscles going. Some things you can’t be prepared for unless you go through that process.”

Simmons, whose speed gives Perry a good look in practice in the passing game, can see it, too.

“I think he’s finally feeling healthy. I don’t think he’s at his best right now,” Simmons said. “Simply because he did a lot of rehabbing and when you spend a whole offseason rehabbing, you’re not able to get better. I think he’s still trying to get back to ground zero and once he does that, he’ll get better, and we’re excited about the things he can do.”

Perry makes no bones about it. He’d like more touches (“I’m not obnoxious about it” and “Hopefully when they see more what I can do I’ll get more touches”), but he’s also happy because his team is winning. Sunday’s 15 touches (nine catches, six runs) marked his most work as a pro and was the most since had nine carries and four runs against Minnesota in Week 2.

“You can’t be too upset when you’re 5-1 and everyone is having a good year. Carson is spreading the ball around. It’d be pretty selfish to be disappointed right now,” Perry said.

A lot of people were disappointed when the Bengals passed up Oregon State’s Jackson with the 24th pick and traded the choice to the Rams knowing they would get Perry at No. 26. (But not knowing they would get tackle Stacy Andrews with the fourth-round pick the Rams gave them.)

The disappointment grew all last year as Jackson averaged five yards per carry as a rookie on just 134 carries in splitting time with Faulk while Perry couldn’t get on the Sunday actives.

There were even people in his own building disappointed with the pick, but running backs coach Jim Anderson was adamant in thinking the 6-0, 224-pound Perry was the best back on the board to service the Bengals needs.

Translation: Surround a guy you think is going to be one of the league’s great passers with as many weapons as you can. So take the running back with the most polished skills in the passing game. And Anderson stood and still stands his ground. That would be Chris Perry, running back, Michigan.

And Anderson likes the 6-2, 230-pound Jackson, a guy who has an outstanding blend of speed and power and who went into Monday’s game 10th in NFC rushing with a 3.9 average on 76 carries.

“It’s what flavor do you like?” Anderson said. “Chris is a multi-dimensional guy who can do so many things.”

’04 DRAFT COMPARISON (Career stats):

Chris Perry, Bengals: 34 carries for 150 yards, 4.4 average, long of 21, 0 TDs; 30 catches for 218 yards, 7.3 average, long of 12.
Steven Jackson, Rams: 210-968, 4.6, 7; 36-328 9.1 28, 1

One of the things Perry has done is become a staple in the two-minute drill, which has yielded touchdowns in the final 69 seconds of the half in four games this season. Perry has flashed that versatility in being called upon in the two-minute drill to, at times, stay in and pick up the blitz.

Perry got to know Jackson during the weeks leading up to last year’s draft, and gets along with him well. But he doesn’t think they’re all that different. “He’s bigger, but we’re the same,” Perry said.

He also doesn’t think he can compare himself with Jackson or any other running back until he gets some better numbers. A total of 27 catches for 185 yards, and 149 yards on 32 carries for a 4.6 average doesn’t cut it for him.

“In order to have a better year than someone,” Perry said, “they have to go off stats, and not what ifs.”
I like the dimension that Chris Perry adds to this offense. If he's healthy, the contrast that he provides to Rudi is superior to the contrast that would have been provided by Steven Jackson.