Benson guarded in reaction to Johnson
CINCINNATI -- Another troubled player trying to revive his career? Nothing new for Cincinnati.
Most Bengals players were unruffled Wednesday by the signing of running back Larry Johnson, brought in for the rest of the season in what's been described as a reserve role to help the AFC North leaders should they have an injury.
"We've definitely got a history with picking up guys that other teams are going to shy away from and having success with them, so hopefully it will be a success," quarterback Carson Palmer said, reflecting the sentiment in the locker room.
The most telling reaction came from the player who could be affected most. Running back Cedric Benson didn't have much to say.
The Bengals signed Johnson for the rest of the season on Tuesday, giving them another running back in case Benson's injury lingers. He had to leave an 18-12 win in Pittsburgh on Sunday because of sprained hip muscles. He didn't practice Wednesday.
After a light morning workout, Benson didn't have much to say about the team's decision. Told that he didn't appear to be thrilled with the move, he smiled.
"Oh, I didn't know I was supposed to be jumping out of my seat or anything," Benson said.
"I really have no feelings about it," he added. "They made a move they felt they needed to do, and that's fine with me, whatever decisions they make in that area. It's not going to affect me in any kind of way. Whatever happens from here on, I can guarantee you I'll definitely be making the best of it."
It'll be one of the interesting subplots during their drive for the playoffs.
By sweeping the Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens -- the teams that played in the AFC title game last season -- Cincinnati (7-2) put itself in control of the division. The Bengals lead the Steelers by a game, and have the important tiebreakers in their favor.
Plus, they've made it through the most challenging part of the schedule. The next three games are at Oakland (2-7), then home against Cleveland (1-8) and Detroit (1-8). There's also a home game against Kansas City (2-7) left.
Why take a chance on bringing in a player who was released by the Chiefs after he questioned the head coach's competence and used gay slurs on his Twitter account?
"Once I found out about him coming here, I knew it was a good addition," receiver Chad Ochocinco said. "Everyone continues to look at the things that's going on off the field with the Twitter issues, but we're talking about a great football player, a great running back that can help us, which adds another weapon to our offense."
If he stays out of trouble, Johnson could come in handy.
Benson has been the focal point of the Bengals' renewed commitment to run the ball this season, one of the main factors in their rise to the top of the division. Benson already has carried an NFL-leading 205 times, nine shy of his career high for any season.
His backup is rookie Bernard Scott, a sixth-round draft pick from Abilene Christian.
If Benson's injury lingers, Johnson could see his role expand quickly. Coach Marvin Lewis hasn't ruled out playing him in Oakland if Benson is sidelined.
"This is another example of another really good player that was on the street and there's a possible need in the future, if not right away, depending upon how Cedric is," Palmer said.
The players have plenty of experience at handling a newcomer with baggage.
The Bengals released and then brought back receiver Chris Henry after his fifth arrest in 2008. He has stayed out of trouble and was a third-down receiver before he broke his left arm two weeks ago.
Benson was the most recent example of players rehabilitating their careers in Cincinnati. The Bears released him after two alcohol-related arrests in Texas. The cases were dropped when grand juries declined to indict, and the Bengals signed him one month into last season when they had only one healthy running back.
Benson was so impressive that they offered him another contract and redesigned the offense. Now, he's backed up by a player who came to the team under similar circumstances -- off-field problems in the past, a one-year contract in hand.
"Most of the time you hold your fate in your own hands," Benson said. "I'm not letting up in any aspect of what I do. I expect to continue to be the No. 1 guy and if not, I'll make it that way."
Benson has settled in as one of the locker room stalwarts. His teammates expect Johnson to do the same.
"When you come in to a team that's winning and things are going well, for the most part guys don't want to come in and be a distraction," Palmer said. "They just want to do what they're told and do their role, and I'm sure that's the type of guy Larry will be."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press
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