GEORGETOWN — A year ago, Cedric Benson was more never-was than has-been.
The fourth overall pick in 2005 was out of the game, a victim of his own immaturity, a troubled soul prone more toward arrest records than rushing records.
Now, a year later, when it comes to the Cincinnati Bengals' running game, Cedric Benson is the man.
"I don't want to hold anything back," he said after Saturday morning's practice.
If redemption is the theme of this 2009 Bengals' training camp, Benson's name should be near the top of the list.
A star running back at Texas, Benson was an early pick then early bust for the Chicago Bears. He started just 12 of 35 games. He rushed for no more than 674 yards in any of his three Midway seasons (2005-07).
When Benson was arrested for an alcohol-related incident on a boat in Texas in May of 2008, the frustrated Bears cut ties with the Longhorn.
So Benson sat. Training camps opened last season and Benson sat. Finally, a Texas grand jury failed to hand up an indictment for the boat incident, clearing Benson's return to the NFL, and Bengals owner and president Mike Brown did what Mike Brown does — he decided to give Benson another chance.
Only this one showed signs of working. Benson signed a one-year, $520,000 contract with the Bengals on Sept. 30. Featured back Chris Perry had been a huge disappointment. An opening existed. Benson took advantage.
He topped the 100-yard mark in three of 12 games. As the year progressed, Benson resurrected his career and the Cincinnati running game. By week 16, against Cleveland, he rushed for 171 yards in a 14-0 Cincinnati victory.
One week into the free agency period, Benson re-signed with Cincinnati. He was a leader in off-season workouts, voicing how he looked forward to having a full training camp under his belt.
"Cedric had a really good finish to our season a year ago," Coach Marvin Lewis said Saturday. "He came to us in mid-season, having to learn everything from scratch, and he was still able to be productive. He embraced the learning part, and everybody was impressed with that. His teammates were impressed with him throughout (the end of last year), and they saw, as time went on, how effective he became."
It's been no different at Georgetown. First practice on Friday, Benson took it to the defense on an 11-on-11 drill to the point where he and linebacker Dhani Jones jumped up barking at each other.
"Camp gives you a chance to get matched in with your offense and get you in a good groove," Benson said Saturday. "I was definitely excited to get back on the field and see where we can take it."
Where can the Bengals take it?
"This offense can be great," Benson said.
If not great, there are signs the Bengals could take it farther than some might expect. Carson Palmer's throws Saturday morning showed zip. (He missed Saturday night's practice because of an illness.) Chad Ochocinco appears in a better frame of mind. Chris Henry's new attitude has earned raves. Laveranues Coles gives Palmer another receiver target.
A key will be a reshaped offensive line, especially if first-round pick Andre Smith, still unsigned, makes it into camp early enough to contribute.
But unlike last year, when the Bengals pinned their shaky ground-game hopes on the unproven and injury-prone Perry, this year Benson is a much better bet to succeed, given how the team closed out a year ago, winning its final three games.
"I sure hope it does roll over to (this season)," Benson said. "I've still got my mojo."