Cedric Benson is thinking big. When he arrived in town nearly a month ago, he set a 1,000-yard season as a goal. When he was preparing to face his former team, the Cincinnati Bengals, he wanted to have a 100-yard game – even though it was a meaningless exhibition.
So it’s no surprise that the Green Bay Packers running back expects Sunday’s regular-season opener against the San Francisco 49ers to be the first of many impact performances he’ll have for his new team.
“For me, I want to make a contribution to this team – in a big way,” Benson said Thursday. “I don’t plan on coming in and leaving only a small stamp. I plan on leaving a big stamp on this year. And I don’t think I’ll feel most comfortable until I start showing signs of that.”
That’s not to say that Benson isn’t getting more comfortable by the day. While he’s no longer sitting in on quarterback meetings with Aaron Rodgers and his crew, he’s still spending extra time learning the weekly game plan on his iPad. His Aug. 12 arrival came just after the team had finished its nine-part installation of the offense, so he still hasn’t learned coach Mike McCarthy’s full playbook – “There still a lot of learning I need to do and can do but for the task at hand and what we plan on achieving this Sunday, I’m good,” he said – but he’s getting a better grasp on the concepts and plays he needs for each game.
“You don’t redo the installations. When he got here we were in more of a game-plan mode, so to a large extent it’s probably easier for him that way because he just had to study a smaller part of it,” offensive coordinator Tom Clements explained. “If he’d have come in early in camp, we throw a lot at them and they’ve already been through it a couple times. It’s probably easier for him with the limited number of plays.”
Even in limited playing time in his two preseason appearances, it wasn’t hard to see what Benson brings to a running game that finished 27th in the NFL in yards per game (97.4) and tied for 26th in yards per attempt (3.9) last season.
“Natural. Finds the hole easily. Can tell you why he made certain cuts. Reads defenses well on the move,” running backs coach Alex Van Pelt said, rattling off Benson’s appealing qualities. “Has an understanding of where the hole is going to be based on the leverage of the defense. That’s nice. Quick to the hole and quick through it, has got a little burst coming out the other side, which is good. The big thing is we have to continue to talk to him about ball security. I’d like to see it carried a little higher and tighter, especially when he’s making cuts.”
Benson spoke earlier this week about the importance of ball security, and did so again Thursday. While it’s a legitimate concern – he fumbled 12 times the past two seasons (seven lost) and fumbled again in the preseason finale against Kansas City (with Jermichael Finley recovering) – he doesn’t believe it to be a problem that cannot be fixed by the Packers’ emphasis on it. According to Benson, the Packers do “three or four” different drills in ball security that he’d never done in Chicago or Cincinnati.
If he indeed resolves that issue, Benson could be a transformational figure in the Packers’ offense. While Rodgers will remain the central figure and McCarthy’s scheme is predicated on stellar quarterback play, Rodgers’ immediate faith in Benson figures to lead to him calling more runs out of the no-huddle offense when he surveys defenses and sees deep safeties and low numbers in the box.
In addition, Benson could help neutralize the 49ers’ vaunted pass rush by running productively, and perhaps most importantly, if the Packers can build a lead, he could serve as an effective closer in 4-minute offense situations. During those times, when everyone in the stadium knows the ball will stay on the ground, if Benson can gain tough yards between the tackles, everyone’s life gets easier.
“If you get them on the ropes, you’ve got to put them away,” Benson said. “I’ve got a lot of guys on defense who come up to me and express how excited they are to have me around and how excited they are to see me run. They know it’s going to keep them on the bench a little longer. They look forward to that.”
Benson, meanwhile, is looking forward to what he could do in Week 2 or Week 6 or Week 12, when he has a firmer grasp on the offensive scheme. For now, though, he needs to simply bbe ready for Week 1.
“There’s no question when the huddle (breaks), it takes me that much longer to visualize the play and make a conclusion on how to react,” Benson admitted. “(But) football is football. You’ve got to go out there and take care of business. I’ll be ready to go.
“I am enjoying myself right now. I’ll start having a lot more fun once the season gets going and I really get a taste of how awesome we can be.”