Benson’s debut a hit
CINCINNATI — Cedric Benson didn’t get his 100 yards against his old team Thursday night. But he did do two much more important things: Breathe life into his new team’s running game, and further impress his new teammates, who had already taken a liking to him.
Making his debut during the team’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium, his NFL home the past three seasons, the Green Bay Packers new running back did not disappoint
“If nothing else, (it was) a ‘Woo, did you see that?’ Just the excitement,” wide receiver Greg Jennings replied when asked what Benson brings to the Packers’ already potent offense. “I talked to him for about 10 or 15 minutes on the sideline just about the excitement that he brings. He’s a name back who’s proven and you know can get it done, and then in this offense, it’s like, ‘Man, you have everything open for you (in the middle).’
“He’s going to be a huge asset in this offense. And he’s going to be one of those guys who makes us go. With the way he’s able to burst those long runs, it will be exciting.”
Benson entered the game on the Packers’ second offensive possession after second-year man Alex Green got the starting nod, but it wasn’t until the Packers’ third possession that Benson touched the ball. On his first series, which ended in a 12-yard touchdown run by quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the Packers called passes on all five plays. Rodgers play-action faked twice to Benson to start the drive, then directed him where to stand before the snap on the fourth play, an 8-yard completion to Tom Crabtree.
“Ced was great. It was nice having him back there,” said Rodgers, who wound up leading the team in rushing for the second straight week, despite Benson’s contributions. “He’s kind of getting his feet wet with some of the stuff we do in no-huddle, but I helped him out a little bit.
“He was great. He made some runs out of nothing a couple times. We were kind of crunched for not really the best play situation there on a couple runs and he made something out of nothing. He did a nice job on the checkdown. It was a good start for him. We’re excited about him.”
Benson trotted out for the Packers’ next possession, and after another play-action pass to open the drive, he finally took a handoff on the next play, gaining 8 yards – the longest run by a Packers running back in the preseason to that point. Two plays later, he bettered that run with a 9-yarder, setting up Rodgers’ second rushing touchdown that gave the Packers a 14-0 lead.
“I’ve never been in an offense like that,” Benson said of the Packers’ up-tempo, no-huddle approach and primarily one-back tack to the running game. “There were a few times last year here in Cincinnati we tried to attempt it, but I’ve never really been in anything like this.
“It’s like a kid in a candy store. All I’ve got to do is press the hole and let the linemen get their headgear on one side and then explode through the hole on the backside. That’s easy work for me.”
By unofficial count, Benson played 19 snaps during the first half before calling it a night. He finished with 38 yards on six carries. He also caught one pass for 10 yards.
With would-be starter James Starks sidelined with turf toe suffered in the Aug. 9 preseason opener at San Diego and last year’s No. 3 back Brandon Saine sidelined with a hamstring injury, the Packers could find themselves with Benson and Green as their 1-2 punch in the ground game when the games start to count with the Sept. 9 regular-season opener against San Francisco.
“I liked the rotation with Cedric Benson and Alex Green. It was something we wanted to accomplish in the first half,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “I thought Cedric looked very natural obviously when carrying the ball. There’s still some language adjustments that he’ll continue to work through. He’s an instinctive, powerful football player. It was evident particularly (on) those hard inside runs that he had. I thought he got off to a good start.”
At the same time, it was an ending of sorts for Benson, who was greeted by a number of his former Bengals teammates both before and after the game. While he maintained that he “was in Cincinnati to play football” on Thursday night, he did appreciate seeing his old team – and realizing how much better he could possibly have it with his new one.
“It felt good,” Benson said of his ex-teammates’ handshakes and hugs. “(It) just lets me know the guys miss me over there. I guess the run game hasn’t gotten up to par in Cincinnati yet. But those guys know what type of player I am and they know how it works, and I’ve developed a pretty good relationship with them.”
And now, he’s doing it with his new team, too.
“He’s a big-name back who’s had some success in this league and rushed for 1,000 yards the last three years. He has the right mentality for our team right now. He’s very hungry, he’s eager to learn, he’s excited,” Rodgers said. “I wanted to get him a rushing touchdown. I know what that would have meant to him. Even thought it was preseason, it would have been special. He made the most of his carries and his catch. I think he can do some good things for us.
“I think the best is yet to come for him. When he gets his legs underneath him, it’s just going to be more explosive runs. He’s going to be a good addition to our offense.”