Bigger, Stronger and Faster
The night before Texas' second scrimmage of the fall, junior running back Cedric Benson decided to shave off his goatee.
"It was getting a little rough so I decided to just get rid of it," Benson said. "I've been clean shaven before. It's just been awhile."
While it might be the most noticeable change to Benson's appearance, it is the least significant.
Although Benson rushed for over a thousand yards last year, marking the second consecutive season he accomplished the feat, he spent this past summer working harder than he ever has before. He cut short his baseball season playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers rookie league club in Vero Beach, Fla., in order to get prepared for his third season as UT's main threat in the offensive backfield.
"This past summer, I was always thinking about football," Benson said. "I would always focus on the baseball game I was playing at the time, but it was always in the back of my head that I couldn't wait to get back to Austin and get ready to put the pads on."
From the day the 2002 season ended, Benson has been putting in long days of training. The preparation resulted in a back that looked better than ever in the spring. He maintained that intensity into the summer, hitting the weights relentlessly, and reported to two-a-day practices weighing in at 223 pounds, up from last year's 215. Although he says he hasn't set any personal goals for the upcoming season except to help the team win, he has put himself in a position to be among the elite running backs in the nation.
A native of Midland, Texas, Benson is projected as a second team All-America and Heisman Trophy candidate by Street & Smith's, while the Sporting News claims he is the seventh-best running back in the nation heading into the season.
More important than his individual accolades, however, is what he can do for the entire Texas offense.
" I'm excited about what Cedric will be able to do this season for everyone on the offense," senior wide receiver B.J. Johnson said. "He obviously worked hard this summer and that will help the entire team. When he's back there running for over a hundred yards a game, it will make things easier on Chance and it will open things up for the receivers."
On Saturday morning in Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, Benson gave the crowd of approximately 12,500 fans a glimpse of the highlights he had in store for them this season. Although he saw action on just a couple of series, he juked, he sprinted, he overpowered defenders and he put on display the cutting on a dime footwork which appears to be the newest weapon in his already full-loaded arsenal.
Benson showed off that fancy footwork on his second carry of Saturday's scrimmage. When a lead play designed to go over the right guard was shut down, Benson shifted his feet and his gears to race over left tackle for six yards. Later, on a delayed handoff, Benson sprinted up the middle for 36 yards. Benson concluded his day of limited work with four carries for 51 yards.
"I think the guys on the offensive line were very focused today," Benson said. "Everything is starting to come together in the running game, and we're going to be just fine in that department."
Added offensive coordinator Greg Davis: "Today showed that we are right on schedule with the running game. We're not entirely where we want to be if it was a game week, but we're on schedule to be ready when that time comes and a lot of that has to do with how hard Cedric has worked over the last few months."