Dalton leads Cincy through 1st full-squad workout
Cedric Benson lined up at running back for the first play during
11-on-11 drills, veered left after the snap and caught a dump-off
pass from Andy Dalton.
Finally, the Cincinnati Bengals’ offense was back at full
strength, though still not all on the same page.
Benson was still learning the playbook when he and the rest of
the Bengals’ free agents lined up for the first time on Thursday
night. A bunch of them were making up for lost time, including
quarterbacks Jordan Palmer and Bruce Gradkowski.
”We have a new offensive coordinator, it’s a new playbook,”
Benson said before practice. ”I’m only one day in. So I’m just
trying to catch up on everything. It always is a little
overwhelming. As soon as I get this playbook down, the defensive
guys had better be ready.”
Like other teams, the Bengals were short-handed while their
signed free agents sat out the first four practices. They weren’t
allowed to participate until the new collective bargaining
agreement was signed on Thursday afternoon.
”We’ll try to ease them into practice,” coach Marvin Lewis
said. ”Some of them have been here with us longer than others, but
we will still try to ease them in as we go into this weekend. We
want to come out of this weekend full of strength.”
Their first full-squad practice clearly showed where they’re
going at quarterback.
Bengals owner Mike Brown indicated last week that he’d like
Dalton to start, even though the second-round pick wasn’t able to
work with coaches over the summer because of the NFL lockout.
Dalton was the first quarterback during 11-on-11 drills Thursday
night and took the overwhelming majority of snaps during a spirited
”I felt like I had a good day,” Dalton said. ”Having
everybody back, everybody was excited out there.”
Gradkowski, signed as a free agent from Oakland, was the second
quarterback. Palmer got by far the fewest plays of the three.
Gradkowski was in Tampa from 2008-09 with Jay Gruden,
Cincinnati’s new offensive coordinator. Although he knows Gruden’s
style, he’s still learning a playbook that’s much different than
the one he had there.
”There’s a few similarities,” Gradkowski said. ”Jay Gruden
definitely has his own offense, his own style. There’s some things
I remember, and there’s a lot of things that are different. So I’ve
just got to come in and learn as much as I can and help this team
any way I can.”
With a new quarterback this season – Carson Palmer says he’ll
retire rather than return – there’s likely to be more emphasis on
Benson, whose role changed last season as the Bengals put more
emphasis on the pass. Benson was a free agent and likely would have
left if the offense had stayed the same.
Gruden replaced Bob Bratkowski as offensive coordinator and told
Benson that the running game will be important in his system.
”He said, `Well, if you’re going to get paid like the Big Dog,
you’re going to get the ball like the Big Dog,”’ Benson said.
Lewis sees him in a little different role in the new offense.
Benson is known for his tough, up-the-middle running style. Lewis
thinks that Benson, who caught only 28 passes last season, needs to
be more of a receiver.
”What he needs to do is become a better receiver and do some of
the other things that are going to be more important to us in our
offense,” Lewis said Thursday before practice. ”He has to be more
diligent in the passing game: being in the right spots, getting the
right route run, and getting it run correctly and precisely while
having the speed and energy out of the cuts.”
Sure enough. Benson spent time one-on-one with an assistant
coach during practice, learning the new pass patterns.
Benson was arrested in July on a misdemeanor charge of
assaulting his former roommate in Texas. He was arrested in the
offseason last year as well, but NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell
didn’t punish him that time.
He’s wondering if he’ll be disciplined this time.
”Of course there’s concern,” Benson said. ”You don’t want to
hurt your team. You don’t want to miss any games. You don’t want to
be fined or anything like that. It’s unfortunate. For that, I’m
greatly sorry not only to the team but the fans. Hopefully matters
won’t come to that.”