Cedric Benson (Getty Images)
Posted: 6 a.m.
Cedric Benson doesn't turn 27 until the last week of the season and the Bengals new bell cow of a running back has been looking like a coltish yearling kicking around the Bengals on-field workouts.
Just ask a guy who saw him when he first came out of Texas and another guy who is practicing with him for the first time.
"He looks fast; he just looks like he's more of a mature back," says defensive tackle Tank Johnson, his former Chicago teammate. "He just seems like he's more of complete back right now. I think he's embracing what he has to do and he's doing it well."
"I know it's going to be a huge year and people are going to be shocked," says Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer. "I love the attitude he brings. The offensive line loves blocking for him, which is huge.
"He loves to work, which is hard to find that in a running back because all the running backs want to do is preserve their bodies and Cedric wants to go, go, go. I should probably try to slow him down if I can. ... There are so many running backs after their first couple of years, they just want to relax and the offseason is a big deal because they want to preserve their bodies for the season. But he's not that way. He wants to work, work, work. It's great having guys like that on the team."
Maybe because Benson has never got the work until he got here. During his first three seasons in Chicago, he carried just 470 times in 35 games. In his first 12 Bengals games last season he carried 214, including 84 in the 3-0 finish that featured a career-high 38 in the Dec. 21 win at Cleveland for a career-high 171 yards.
Told after Tuesday's practice that Rudi Johnson holds the team record with 361 carries, Benson smiled and said, "Cake."
"I would love it if it was like that," he said. "That's why I play football."
Remember, this is a guy who carried 100 times in December after lugging it just 67 times in 2005 as a rookie in Chicago.
Remember, this is a guy that pounded it 1,112 times during four seasons at Texas in a college career he never carried it less than 223 and topped it out at 326 as a senior all the while gaining five yards per pop.
"I can take the load as it's dished out," Benson said. "I've kind of been doing it my whole career. I know how to do it and have enjoyed it. Nobody (in the NFL) has ever looked at my resume and decided to do what I do best."
Benson knows the Bengals are going to run it. He said before the field work even started head coach Marvin Lewis emphasized they are going to run the football and offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski "reiterated that fact."
"I'm banking on us getting the foundation of our offense started on the ground," Benson said. "I think the OC will find a way to manage that and balance that to work to our advantage. I know it's depending on the weather, or how other guys come out to play, it might be a big day for me. There's no question I'm up for the challenge."
But he can't help notice the Bengals are running the ball these days. Asked to talk about his ability to bust screen passes (his 79-yarder was the biggest pass play of the season and he broke a 21-yarder against the Eagles), Benson could only say they haven't worked on it much.
"But we are running the ball a lot," he said.
Yet he hasn't noticed the changes on the offensive line, which he figures is a good thing. He knows he's got a rookie right tackle in Andre Smith, but that's all because he's been so intent on learning the steps of new plays.
"Even though we haven't put on pads, I've been running all over the place," Benson said. "I've been having fun and they've been making it easy for me. I think those guys are going to be great this year. Last year was a good taste for everybody. It didn't taste good, but it was good for everybody. I think this year it can only lead to greatness."
Benson wants the ball for a lot of reasons. And, yes, he's seen the schedule. The Bengals play the Bears this season and he simply says, "I'm not going to talk much about it, but I can't wait."
After the Bears took him with the fourth pick in the draft, Benson never could figure out why they teamed him with Thomas Jones and his career never got off the ground.
"I don't feel established," Benson said. "I've had some trying times and pulled through them. Showed glimpses of greatness. I've got much more I want to do. I feel like it's not time to slow down."
Certainly Palmer thinks it's his time, period. That baggage Benson arrived with back on Sept. 30? Aloof? Bad guy? It's been checked into the black hole of time and space.
"He's everything you heard positive about him and nothing you heard negative about him," Palmer says. "It just goes to show you guys can get portrayed wrongly in the media if the media doesn't know what's going on and if they take 'he said, she said' and start writing about it.
"I know that from everything I've seen he's a class guy; he's fun to work with. I enjoy having him as a teammate. He's a normal dude. There's no negativity. He's excited to be here."
Palmer and Benson can be found on the basketball court every lunch hour challenging each other on jump shots, or they could be talking about football or dogs. Going back to his USC days, Palmer admits, "I hated watching him play, but I loved watching him as a fan."
Johnson: "As years turn certain things become less important and certain things become more important. He's the same guy I know. Ced's a good dude. I'm sure he'll make our team really good. The guy was the fourth pick in the draft. I mean, he's no bust. I'm excited to see him run this year."
All indications are both Johnson and Palmer ought to get plenty of chances to see their man work.