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

practice.

”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.”