Updated: 8:45 p.m.
The Bengals offense continued its massive transformation Wednesday when the Bengals followed up the deal for running back Cedric Benson with what has been reported as a four-year contract for wide receiver Laveranues Coles.
It comes on a day running back Benson began his reincarnation as a team leader.
"Absoulutely," Benson said when asked if he was going to be at the offseason workouts. "Part of it is building team camaraderie. We've got a young team. You build that in the offseason and it kind of rolls over to other guys as they grow up in this league. Being here for the summer workouts can propel not only yourself, but your team."
Benson is particularly pumped about being teamed with quarterback Carson Palmer. It only happened once last season, which turned out to be Palmer's last game and Benson's first in the 29-22 loss Oct, 5 in Dallas.
"Everybody I've talked to keeps asking me if I've played with Carson and when I say it was only once, they tell me it's like night and day," Benson said. "I'm real excited to see what we can do. He wasn't 100 percent."
Palmer is also relieved Benson is back.
"Huge," he said. "For Cedric to do what he did last year without the benefit of a training camp is amazing to me. I can't wait to use him in the passing game because he's got a great feel for the screen."
Palmer remembers spending time with Benson that week, his first with the team, and how they spent late nights at Paul Brown Stadium watching film and helping him cram.
"The guy loves football. He's big, he's tough, he runs hard right through the A and B gaps," Palmer said. "
Lewis pointed to the re-signings of Benson and safety Chris Crocker as more evidence he's filling the locker room with guys with whom he's comfortable.
"When you get workmen-type guys they show the way for the young guys. That's huge They're great mentors," Lewis said. "In both cases we've got guys that came in here with leadership qualities through their work and what they said and how they approached their day and how they carried themselves and how they went on the field and backed it up. In these two guys' cases, it's how they carried themselves. The impression they made on their teammates (in) practice and the games."
The Bears, no doubt, would recoil in disbelief. After three difficult seasons in Chicago, they cut Benson last summer following two alcohol-related incidents in Texas. But his life began to turn the last week in September when a grand jury failed to indict Benson in both cases and the Bengals signed him Sept. 30.
"Usually when you're at your lowest points in life, that's when you achieve your greatest accomplishments," Benson said. "I'm grateful I was blessed with the state of mind and the ability to tackle that and achieve that."
Although he visited the Texans a few days ago while flirting with the idea of playing close to home backing up Steve Slaton, Benson not only had a starting job in Cincinnati but loyalty.
"I know I've got Marvin at my back. A lot of the position coaches," Benson said. "Just the fact they gave me a chance when no one did. I was home. I wasn't playing football. There was a lot of negativity surrounding me as not only a player but my character off the field as well. I'm sure they second-guessed the thought at times, but they followed through."
Benson could see a lot of Bengaldom in his season after the 4-3-1 finish following an 0-8 start.
"Not only was it for me personally a redeeming season, but as well for the team," he said. "How we turned it around towards the end of the season and how we were able to redeem ourselves. I think the way you finish can be largely how you start the next season."
Benson had to be honest. His situation was so intense that he didn't view it in the context of 0-8.
"I felt like I was a one-man show; trying to set the record straight," he said. "I really didn't see the whole big picture of everything."
If there is any guy to ask about perceptions, it is Benson, a guy that has had to fight them longer than Ricky Williams' dreadlocks. The Bengals are going through their annual March bloodletting while getting blogged to death in free agency and Benson took the question of the club's perception downhill.
"I try to stay focused on the task at hand and not so much the negativity going on out in the world," he said. "One thing I can say about what is going on here in this organization, the locker room, on the football field, is that there are guys trying to achieve a common goal to be in the playoffs and work to being in the Super Bowl. You never know what it looks like from the outside looking in. But from the inside looking out I think it's exactly what you would want to be doing in this profession.
"I know coming from training room staff to weight room to how we practice on the field and how coaches individually prepare the players in practice and what they ask them to do in practice to carry it over into the game, I think it's the perfect feel for a championship team."
After rushing for three 100-yard games in the final eight games of the season spliced by a career 171-yard effort in Cleveland despite not wearing pads until October, Benson is looking forward to a full offseason and preseason.
"It's a (chance) to get your gun loaded and all your bullets fired accurate," he said. "It gives me a chance to be well rounded in the entire playbook and not just in most of the running game. It's a chance to fully capture it all."
Benson heads up a backfield of tailbacks with Chris Perry, Kenny Watson, DeDe Dorsey and James Johnson. With the expectation of a running back to be drafted after the first day, one of those could be looking at getting released.
Benson has noted the Bengals play the Bears (at home) this season and admitted, "I'm excited about it."
"Some of it is to prove," he said. "Not only at that week get(ting) the win will be important, in particular, for me, it will be important to clear the slate. Squeaky clean."
His old quarterback in Chicago, Rex Grossman, is showing up for a job interview with the Bengals on Thursday and Benson won't be here, but he hopes Grossman stays.
"He was a good dude. We had a good relationship," he said. "Maybe the situation is similar to mine. It just takes getting out and finding success."