With the owners and players reportedly optimistic about reaching a new labor agreement, Bengals fans are beginning to look ahead to the 2011 season.
"I'm ready to see my Bengals in action. I'm ready to see me some 'BIG CED' running and pounding! WHODEY!" wrote Bengals fan Mark Hezlep on our Facebook page.
"Big Ced" of course is running back Cedric Benson, who has been a workhorse since arriving in Cincinnati early in the 2008 season. In 40 career Bengals starts (including postseason) Benson has 13 games of 100-plus rushing yards, and his ratio of one 100-yarder for every 3.08 starts is best in team history.
In 2009, Benson set a Bengals season record with six 100-yard rushing games. Furthermore, Cincinnati has a 10-1 record when Benson carries it 25 or more times in a game.
"It's not always the yardage total that's most important," Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said. "When your back is carrying 25 times, it means that even though the yardage will vary, you're controlling the ball, controlling the clock, and keeping your defense off the field. As it shows for us, that is very likely going to be a winning combination."
The Bengals record with Benson at 25-plus carries is slightly better than the record with Benson at 100-plus yards (10-2).
Three years have made a huge difference in the pro football fortunes of Benson, the one-time fourth overall pick in the NFL Draft.
June of 2008 saw Benson "on the street," released by the Chicago club that drafted him in 2005 after his prodigious career at Texas. He had failed to top 700 rushing yards in three Bears seasons, and his personal image was under fire.
But June of 2011 presents an entirely different scene for Benson. He long ago was completely cleared of pre-2008 allegations that unfairly damaged his personal reputation, and he also has beaten the Chicago rap that he was a moody guy unable to productively meld with teammates.
Since signing with the Bengals in September 2008, Benson has been the team's bellcow rusher, a leader in the locker room and a player known by media as a consistently cordial and thoughtful interview subject. He has led the team in rushing three straight years, with more than 1100 yards in each of his two full seasons. On Oct. 25, 2009 vs. the Bears, he ceremonially put an end to any lingering demons from his Chicago years, leading a 45-10 Bengals stampede with a career-high 189 rushing yards. The total stands through today as the most rushing yards ever gained by an NFL player against one of his former teams.
"Cedric has obviously been a standout player for us in all areas," Lewis said. "After talking to him extensively before we signed him, we were confident he was a much different person and player than the one portrayed in Chicago. He has lived up to that confidence in every way."