By JOE KAY
AP Sports Writer
CINCINNATI (AP) - By carrying the ball in the rain with his
former Bengals teammates, running back Cedric Benson sent the front
office another reminder that he wants to be the centerpiece of
Cincinnati's all-new offense.
The free agent joined his former teammates for a voluntary
workout Wednesday at the University of Cincinnati, acting much more
like someone who's ready to lead rather than leave. Benson has
topped the team in rushing each of the last three seasons, but
didn't get a contract extension.
During the NFL's lockout, free agents can't negotiate or sign
with teams. The 28-year-old running back from Texas not only wants
to stay, but is ready to become one of the leaders in an offense
undergoing dramatic change.
"I've been very passive the past three years, maybe just
because I had to," said Benson, who revived his career in
Cincinnati after tough times in Chicago. "I'm not saying I'm a
totally different person or that I'd be crazy vocal or nothing like
that, but I'd be a little more expressive on work ethic and passion
for the game just because that's how I am."
The Bengals plummeted to 4-12 last season, when reality-show
hosts Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco became the faces of an
offense that had a lot of self-promotion but not nearly enough
production. The defending AFC North champions put the focus on
their look-at-me receivers, and ended up in last place.
The TOcho show has been canceled, and quarterback Carson Palmer
- the face of the franchise since 2004 - isn't coming back. While
the NFL and its players try to resolve their labor dispute, Benson
is trying to remind the front office that he's ready for a much
bigger part in a new-look offense.
"Cedric wants to be more than the guy who gets the ball in the
backfield," quarterback Jordan Palmer said, after a morning
workout in the rain. "He wants to be a leader. He wants to be the
identity of the team and the franchise, and I'm all for that."
He attracted the attention of his former teammates by flying in
from Texas to join them for several voluntary workouts.
"To have a guy like Cedric out here - unsigned, showing his
leadership by being here - that's tremendous," offensive tackle
Andrew Whitworth said.
Benson was the focal point of the offense when the Bengals won
the division in 2009, then lost to the Jets in the first round of
the playoffs. The Bengals decided to emphasize the passing game
last season, a move that backfired. Benson thought it was a mistake
to de-emphasize the running game.
Offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski was fired after the season.
Replacement Jay Gruden is bringing in an entirely new scheme, one
that's more West Coast style. The Bengals drafted TCU quarterback
Andy Dalton in the second round as Carson Palmer's eventual
With the quarterback position in flux, the Bengals need a
dependable running back to carry the load.
"You have an offensive coordinator who's coming in and saying
that we're having a running identity," Jordan Palmer said. "And
you have an uncertain quarterback situation, which is going to mean
more carries. That's a green light for him. I know he wants to be
here. He's close with these guys.
"I think he's one of the best running backs in the league and
he's going to be primed to have the best year of his career. I want
him here more than anybody."
Benson likes the changes so far.
"Change can be good," he said. "Considering the way things
went a year ago, it's time for change. I think it's going to be a