CINCINNATI – Any doubts about Cedric Benson’s ability to contribute in the West Coast offense were erased on Thursday night.
Making his preseason debut for the Packers, Benson sparked the offense with six carries for 38 yards, plus one reception for 10 more yards. He accumulated that production on the Packers’ second and third scoring drives of the first half as the No. 1 offense put up 17 points in a 27-13 victory at Paul Brown Stadium.
“Did you see that?” receiver Greg Jennings said, imitating how his teammates were reacting in the huddle and on the sideline. “If nothing else, (he brings) excitement. A name back, who’s proven, who you know can get the job done.
“He’s going to be a huge asset in this offense. He’s going to be one of those guys who’ll make us go.”
Benson got off to a dynamite start with runs of 8 and 9 yards on his first two carries, when he entered the game on Green Bay’s third series. Those yards helped lead to a touchdown.
Two series later, he burst up the middle for 11 yards and then caught the checkdown for a 10-yard gain. On most of his runs, the Packers were in a spread formation in the shotgun, which leaves fewer defenders – as few as six sometimes – in the “box” to play the run.
Benson said it reminded him of his final two years in college at Texas, seeing the middle of the field open up like that.
“It’s like a kid in a candy store,” Benson said. “All I have to do is press the hole, let the linemen get their headgear on one side, and then explode through the hole on the back side. That’s easy work for me.”
Jennings made it look easy at times as well in his preseason debut, having returned from a concussion this week. On the first scoring drive, he snagged a deep comeback for 19 yards off play-action to Benson, and on the next play he caught a short hitch, made cornerback Leon Hall whiff on the tackle, and went for 18 yards.
Jennings said his timing wasn’t all the way back, and he did miss on a couple of connections with quarterback Aaron Rodgers, but he’s moving into ready-mode.
“Absolutely. Anytime you’re able to get back out there with the guys, it feels great,” he said. “Practice is one thing, but the game is a totally different speed. Live bullets. I felt rusty at times, but getting the ball in my hands, hitting the ground, making a few guys miss, it felt good.”
There were a number of positive signs on the defensive side, too. Cornerback Tramon Williams was matched against receiver A.J. Green and blanketed him on a pair of go routes toward the end zone in the first half. On the second one, Williams reached up one-handed and nearly picked the ball off.
Outside linebacker Erik Walden also continued his strong preseason, showing he’ll be a valuable backup on the edge when he returns from his one-game suspension in Week 2.
In the second quarter, the Bengals tried a run at Walden on second-and-goal from the 1, and Walden held the point, forcing running back Cedric Peerman to turn back inside, where a host of tacklers were waiting for him.
The 2-yard loss forced the Bengals to throw on third down, and Walden came unblocked off the blind side for a 9-yard sack, forcing a field goal.
“Don’t miss the layup,” Walden said of the free run at QB Andy Dalton. “It felt good.
“It just shows we’ve got a lot of versatility in our defense. It doesn’t matter who’s in the game, or who comes in, who comes out, you have to prepare for all of us. I think that’s going to be to our advantage this year.”
More depth was on display at inside linebacker, as the newly converted Jamari Lattimore stepped in front of tight end Orson Charles for a pick-six in the fourth quarter.
Lattimore said he’s still not entirely comfortable on the inside after playing outside linebacker as a rookie, but he had seen that route many times in practice, and reserve QB Tyler Hansen threw it right to him. Lattimore had smooth sailing all 27 yards to the end zone.
“When he broke, I was thinking just undercut (the route) like I do in practice, and I’ll be darned if the ball wasn’t coming,” Lattimore said. “My eyes got big and I just wanted to take advantage of the opportunity.”
The battle for backup positions and complementary roles in the defensive backfield continued as well. Cornerback Sam Shields played for the first time in the preseason and atoned for a long completion earlier, and another play he was beat when he fell down, by intercepting a Zac Robinson pass intended for receiver Ryan Whalen along the sideline in the fourth quarter.
“I think we’re going to make a hard decision for the coaches,” Shields said. “Guys were making plays, flying around. It’s going to be a tough decision.”