Worth the wait for Benson?
CINCINNATI - Cedric Benson really didn't have time to reflect or make his return to Cincinnati bigger than it was.
Unemployed 10 days ago, he's now busy trying to become the primary runner for one of the NFL's most explosive offenses.
The running back depth chart for the Green Bay Packers is full of a bunch of injured players and a few with a fleeting shot, at best, to play in the NFL. Whatever the reasons were that the Bengals showed no interest in re-signing their primary runner of the last four years and that every other team passed on, too, there are just as many reasons that Benson and the Packers can be a good match.
He showed as much Thursday night against the Bengals, when he rushed six times for 38 yards and caught one pass for 10 yards. Second-year player Alex Green got the start for the Packers, and Benson was second in the rotation in his debut. He ended up playing much of the first half.
Afterward, Benson needed to catch his breath. But he promised there's more to come.
"I feel good," Benson said. "I was joking earlier that I've only been here a week and a half and I'm already playing the (whole) first half. But it feels good. Honestly, it feels like I haven't had a lot of time off."
Benson, 29, resurrected his career with the Bengals in 2008, signing a month into the season after being released by the Bears. He rushed for more than 1,000 yards in Cincinnati in each of the last three seasons, highlighted by a 1,251-yard season in 2009 when the Bengals ran the table in the AFC North.
But what was never a warm relationship over the final two years of his stay with the Bengals grew cold last season as the Bengals scrambled to a 9-7 finish and earned a wild-card playoff berth. Benson served NFL suspensions for off-field incidents in both 2010 and 2011, and during his time in Cincinnati was never shy about sharing his feelings -- especially when those feelings involved Benson's believing he was not getting enough touches.
He said he enjoyed catching up with old teammates and coaches before and after Thursday's game, and he didn't deny enjoying his own solid performance while the Bengals played without their injured top two running backs, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Bernard Scott.
"I definitely wanted to send a message," Benson said.
Benson said he's not thinking of this opportunity with the Packers as possibly being his last -- or anything along those lines. He's always worked to control his weight and stay in shape, and he said he tried to "bottle all the positive energy" as he waited for a call in late July and early August.
In July, Benson made an impassioned plea on a national radio show for some team to give him an opportunity. Now, he has one in Green Bay.
"I thought Cedric got off to a good start," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "He's a very instinctive and powerful player. I liked the rotation with Cedric and (Green). Anytime you add another weapon, it certainly helps."
James Starks, last year's lead runner in Green Bay, is battling turf toe and has missed all of camp. Green is coming an ACL injury. Brandon Saine is out with a sore hamstring, and the only other two backs in Packers camp are undrafted rookies. Like the Bengals did with Benson, the Packers let Ryan Grant walk and now could benefit from Benson's wait.
"I'm just making the best of the situation," Benson said. "I'm definitely poised to have a great year.
"I hate waiting around. I was thrilled to get the call to work out for the Packers. It's a winning team, and it seems like I can do some things to help."
Benson showed good burst when his number was called Thursday night. He acknowledged hearing some cheers -- "and a couple boos, too" -- from Bengals fans after his first carry and said he's eager to get more familiar with his new teammates and surroundings. He said he's been going to meetings with the Packers quarterbacks in order to get a better grasp on the playbook, and he likes the wide-open, up-tempo style the Packers run with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback.
"It's a passing offense, so it creates a lot of seams for a running back," Benson said. "I'm like a kid in a candy store.
"Absolutely I like the potential of this offense. So far, so good and it can only get better."