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 CINCINNATI (AP) -Rudi Johnson and Kenny Watson participated in a full practice Thursday, giving the Cincinnati Bengals another option at running back heading into a game they can't afford to lose.
The question is how to use them.
Johnson missed most of the past four games with a pulled hamstring, but returned to practice this week and reported no problems. Watson, who filled in as the starter and had a 130-yard game against the New York Jets, returned to practice Thursday after recovering from a concussion.
Coach Marvin Lewis won't say which one will start Sunday when the Bengals (2-5) play at Buffalo (3-4). The intrigue involves which one carries the ball more.
``They're both too good of players not to (use),'' quarterback Carson Palmer said. ``It's always a good thing when you're not sure which running back you want to play. Kenny does so many good things, and Rudi does so many good things, and they're so different that it gives us a great change of pace.''
The Bengals struggled to run the ball with Johnson early this season, although it wasn't all the running back's fault. The offensive line was in flux each game because of injuries, and Johnson was having to make moves in the backfield to avoid tackles.
Johnson has carried 62 times for 185 yards - a 3-yard average - without a touchdown. Watson is a little quicker in his cuts, helping him avoid tackles. He has 401 yards on 85 carries - a 4.7-yard average - and four touchdowns.
``He did a great job,'' Johnson said. ``Kenny filled in well. He did a lot of great things. We were able to get some wins with him in there. So all we've got to do now is continue to build on that and continue to move forward.''
At least for this week, Watson is likely to take the lead.
He suffered a mild concussion late in a 24-13 loss to Pittsburgh on Sunday, when he had an impressive 88 yards and 4.6-yard average against one of the league's toughest run defenses. No one has run for 100 yards against the Steelers in their past 32 games.
Even if Johnson is fully recovered from the hamstring injury, Lewis is reluctant to push him too much in his first game back.
``A healthy Rudi hasn't played in five weeks, basically, or four weeks, so we want to make sure we're not going to overload Rudi at this point,'' Lewis said. ``So we have to use both guys - actually use all three players. We'll use DeDe (Dorsey) as well. We'll use all three backs and try to give everybody a little piece of the pie.''
Johnson won the starting job under similar circumstances in 2003, sharing the spot with Corey Dillon until he got hurt. Johnson got the job full time the next season and had kept it until he got hurt against Seattle on Sept. 23.
He tried to play three weeks later, but was limited to four carries in a 27-20 loss to Kansas City that convinced him he needed more time off.
``I tried to come back one time and I wasn't quite myself,'' Johnson said. ``So I wanted to take some time off and make sure once I got back on the field, it's the same Rudi J that everybody's been used to. So I'm looking forward to going out against Buffalo and having a great game.''
The Bengals are trying to get some balance in their out-of-whack offense. They're fifth in the league in yards passing, but in the bottom third when it comes to rushing. Unable to run consistently, they've stalled on short-yardage plays. Lewis decided to kick a field goal on fourth-and-1 near the goal line last Sunday, showing his lack of confidence.
With Johnson back, the running game will be at full strength.
``Love it,'' guard Bobbie Williams said. ``It's going to be fun. I think it will be good to have him and Kenny back there - double-dose, two-headed monster. The offensive line seems to have things going good in the run game, so it's going to be fun.''
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