By Joe Kay/The Associated Press
CINCINNATI — BenJarvus Green-Ellis (Ole Miss) showed the Bengals his competitiveness this summer when he got wrapped up in a team volleyball game that was supposed to be just for fun.
To him, fun means winning.
“He was out there competing, trying to encourage guys, making sure we didn’t lose and things like that,” quarterback Andy Dalton said on Wednesday.
On the field, the running back’s results were disappointing in the first half of the season, when a young offensive line had trouble opening holes. Now, Green-Ellis has run for more than 100 yards in each of the last three games, steadying the offense during a four-game winning streak that has Cincinnati (7-5) back in playoff contention.
His new team is seeing that competitive streak again.
“It’s fun to see because he’s really turned it on these last couple weeks,” Dalton said. “It doesn’t seem like anything’s stopping him.”
Green-Ellis signed with the Bengals as a free agent after four years with New England, where he had a total of 20 starts and four 100-yard games. The Bengals were looking for a more versatile replacement for Cedric Benson as they evolved into a West Coast offense.
The running game struggled mightily at the outset. Green-Ellis averaged less than 60 yards in the first nine games, and the Bengals rushed for only 93.7 per game, eighth-worst in the NFL.
There’s been a pronounced change lately. Green-Ellis ran for 101 against Kansas City, 129 against Oakland and 118 against San Diego, becoming the first Bengals running back with three straight 100-yard games since Corey Dillon in 1999.
During the last two games, he’s broken runs of 48, 41 and 39 yards, the three longest of his career.
Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden thinks it’s a matter of Green-Ellis settling in behind a new offensive line that was in flux because of injuries early in the season.
“It was his first time with a new line and a new system and terminology and all that stuff,” Gruden said. “A lot of the runs were the same he’s used to, but still you’ve got to get used to your linemen and our aiming points and all that.
“He’s done a great job being patient, but making his decisions and getting up the field have been outstanding. That’s the big thing.”
The Bengals got to see another side of him during the second half of their 20-13 win in San Diego on Sunday. After Green-Ellis was dropped for a loss on third-and-1, he was outspoken on the sideline, rallying the rest of the offense.
“He’s vocal in a sense that when he feels like something needs to be said, he’ll say it,” left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. “He’ll ask what he needs and what we have to do to be successful. He’s not scared to talk about it. And that’s a good thing. It’s a mark of a guy that’s confident.”
Green-Ellis is the opposite of Benson when it comes to sharing his thoughts with the public. Benson would meet with the media in front of his locker every Wednesday to discuss the state of the team and the upcoming game. If he thought the Bengals were overlooking the run, he’d say so.
Green-Ellis doesn’t do many interviews and doesn’t say much even then.
“I’m only thinking about Dallas, that’s about it,” he said after practice on Wednesday. “I don’t even care about the last three games. Those are etched in stone. Nothing we can do about them. Only thing I care about is improving and worrying about Dallas.”
The Cowboys (6-6) come to Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday, needing to stop Green-Ellis in order to have a chance to stay in the playoff chase. Dallas is one of four teams in the NFC at 6-6, a game behind Seattle for the final wild card berth.
“Physically the line is good up front, but he just has a good feel for running,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “I think anybody who’s followed his career when he was in New England, he just seemed to make a lot of yards. He’s certainly doing that in Cincinnati.”
NOTES: DE Carlos Dunlap won the AFC’s defensive player of the week award for having five tackles, two sacks and forcing two fumbles in San Diego. … K Mike Nugent didn’t practice on Wednesday because of a sore right calf. CB Dre Kirkpatrick (concussion), RB Cedric Peerman (ankle) and WR Marvin Jones (illness) also were out. … C Kyle Cook fully participated in practice for the first time, an indication he’s close to being activated. Cook hurt his right ankle in the final preseason game and needed surgery. He was designated as the Bengals player who can return from injured reserve during the season. He resumed practice on a limited basis last week.
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