CINCINNATI -- Cedric Benson spent five days in a Texas jail mopping floors and thinking about how much he missed football.
This one means a little more to him than most because of how he spent last week.
"You think about a lot of things in life, about the things you need to make changes to not only to protect yourself, but to keep yourself out of danger," Benson said Wednesday, with raindrops running down his face after a morning practice. "I was eager to get back to it.
"I thought a lot about football. I thought a lot about this week and was eager to get back and get started."
Benson was gone for a little more than a week to take care of two misdemeanor assault cases in Austin, Texas. He pleaded no contest and was given a 20-day jail sentence that was reduced in part because he volunteered to mop floors and help paint crews. He also got credit for time served after his arrests.
Missing a week with the team wasn't a setback.
"Not much at all," Benson said. "Not as far as playing football. Granted, it's a new playbook. So missing a week challenges you a little bit in some aspects of the book. But I've got a week to make up for it. We've had plenty of time,"
Cincinnati will start rookie quarterback Andy Dalton, rookie receiver A.J. Green, second-year slot receiver Jordan Shipley and second-year tight end Jermaine Gresham in Cleveland, leaving little experience in the passing game. They did their best in the preseason when they handed the ball to Benson, who wants to be the focal point of coordinator Jay Gruden's new offense.
"That's kind of the AFC North, I guess," offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said. "In this division, yeah, if you come out running the ball effectively and continue to run the football, you're going to win this game."
Benson's availability was one of Cincinnati's biggest concerns heading into the game in Cleveland.
He was the Bengals' leading rusher each of the last three seasons and signed a one-year deal to stay after Gruden took over as offensive coordinator. He got arrested in July for punching a former roommate in Austin. He also had been arrested there in 2010 for punching a bar employee.
"It's best for him and for the football team to put everything behind you as quick as possible," coach Marvin Lewis said. "Tie up loose ends and put it behind you as quick as you can. I think that's important."
Benson reconsidered and decided to serve his time before the season.
"I don't want to spend my bye week serving jail time, nor did I want to have them waiting on me as the season went on," Benson said. "I wanted to get everything behind me where I could just focus on the future, focus on playing football."
Notes: The Bengals practiced in a steady rain on a 63-degree afternoon Wednesday as the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee moved through the area. The Bengals are the only northern NFL team without a covered practice field. ... Rookie Clint Boling will start at right guard in place of Bobbie Williams, suspended for the first four games for violating the NFL's ban on performance-enhancing substances. Boling, a fourth-round draft pick, played 19 games at right guard for Georgia.
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press