In the season where all logic has been ripped from its moorings, Bengals strength coach Chip Morton has looked to running back Cedric Benson for strength.
"He's kept me sane," Morton says. "He's a rock. He's a hardened Texan. A rugged guy. One of the best."
Morton could have been talking about Benson in the weight room, where he's a serious and chiseled 226-pound pro and one of the team leaders when it comes to the number of supervised workouts during the season and offseason. And where on Wednesday he was still leading. He just popped up his biggest bench press number of the year, unheard of in the last belches of a 4-11 season.
Or Morton could have been talking about the guy who has a B.S. radar always on high alert. Who is so passionate that he has wept enough publicly to be the next Speaker of the House. Swept to the curb early in the 2008 season because of off-field problems, Benson this week on successive days was voted the Ed Block Courage Award and the Good Guy Award for cooperation with the media.
They must be rubbing their eyes in Chicago, where teammates allegedly took free shots at him in practice and where the media buried him more than the dead guys that voted for Richard J. Daley.
"You see that happen to many players in the league; they get to another team and they find success," Benson says. "It's about being in the right place. I don't want to necessarily say the right scheme because it's just not the scheme that can contribute to a player's success. It's all about surroundings as well."
Morton is one of the surroundings. As he scrolled the Internet Tuesday night, he said he came across an item that brought up Benson's past problems in the wake of his teammates voting him the Block Award for perseverance and overcoming adversity.
Then on Wednesday as he ate lunch, Morton got a team-wide email that said the Cincinnati chapter of the Pro Football Writers of America had named Benson their Good Guy "in a frustrating season such as this one has been for the team," said chapter head Joe Reedy of The Cincinnati Enquirer. "It's extremely important to us that he has set an example as a team leader to help us bring our readers the information that they so strongly desire."
"How about that?" Morton asks. "Why bring up the past? I thought he and we were beyond that. Here are two different groups of people, his peers and the media, who have recognized he's gone above and beyond, and they appreciate how he's become a complete man and player. I tell you what; he's one of the good guys in here, too."
Benson says he hasn't changed his approach to the game in his three seasons in Cincinnati. He says the only thing that has changed is his diet. No more gluten. No processed foods. But he admits it's been an education trying to hold the spice with the media.
"I think maybe back then in Chicago I may have gave a little too much of my opinion or expressed the reality the way I saw it too strong or straight up," Benson said. "Now, I still try to answer the question without stepping on anyone's toes.
"When I answered a question, I wouldn't care whose toes I stepped on. I thought I was just answering the question. You've got to kind of play the game. There's a lot of B.S. going around and you kind of have to play along with it. As much as I hate to do that, I've been able to find a way to do that without feeling like a sellout."
That was tough earlier this season. Stung by the Bengals turning away from the run after they used it to win the AFC North in '09, Benson openly questioned the move. When it didn't change anything, he backed off. Now after two games the Bengals have won in which they've either had season-high rush yards or attempts, he's not gloating.
Asked Wednesday just exactly how fun it is to be back to the run-first mentality and Benson shrugged.
"(It's) pretty fun to play, period," he said. "But having this run-first identity has not only sent a message to our team, but it sends a message to our opponent and puts us in a good place in other aspects of the offense."
"I thought if something wasn't going right, it needed to be addressed," Benson said of Chicago. "That's really how life is. If something ain't right, it needs to be addressed in order for it to change. But you've got to roll with the punches in this business. Just kind of play the game."
Morton doesn't know about all that. He just sees Benson every day in the weight room and on the practice field chugging away. A supervised workout is one where the player goes to Morton or assistant Jeff Friday looking for guidance and Benson leads the paperwork. Maybe even more importantly, a guy like second-year running back Bernard Scott's participation is up.
"Bernard sees it every day," Morton says. "And now he's been doing it more and more. He's been getting in here extra with Jeff Friday. He's watched how Cedric takes care of himself and how serious he is about it. The guy's a great example."
Now that he's 28 years and two days old and not the 22-year-old fourth pick in the draft supposed to the savior of a big-market team, Benson is soft-pedaling his impending free agency and the possibility of Sunday being his last game as a Bengal.
"The thought crosses your mind," he said. "It's not necessarily true. It might be. I really don't think about it much. I just think about finishing strong.
"I haven't really thought much about that. I addressed it awhile back. I said it would be something I would think about and consider in the offseason and the offseason hasn't got here yet."
But when it does, he'll still be a good guy in the weight room. On Wednesday night, Morton was still shaking his head about Benson's workout earlier in the day after 19 games, 20 weeks, 300 carries, and two awards that signify redemption and rebirth.
"Phenomenal," he says on one of the saner days. "I'm thrilled for him."