No 'Stretch' To Say Benson Is Back In Stride

Texas' most consistently successful rushing play during the past five years, regardless of the ball carrier, is the isolation play, head coach <B>Mack Brown </B>said recently. But based on results of Tuesday's spring drills, the 'stretch play' may be equally effective when the season kicks off August 30.

Or, it could be that RB Cedric Benson is reminding observers more and more these days of the elusive, powerful presence he was as a freshman rather than the injured, fatigued and disgruntled ball carrier they often saw last season.

Either way, the new "old" Benson was epitomized on two successive plays when he simply outdistanced himself from all defenders on what Brown described as the "dreaded ol’ zone play that people hate so much."

The stretch play is a type of sweep run out of the I formation but the QB hands the ball to the RB instead of pitching it. Late Tuesday afternoon, the play worked both times, first to left side of the field and then to the right, to the tune of 50+ yards. Granted, it was a limited contact drill -- but Benson easily beat projected starting CB Cedric Griffin to the corner the first time before tight-roping the sideline toward the goal line.

Benson took personally last year’s paltry rushing totals that ranked just No. 74 nationally. His yard-per-carry average dipped from 4.7 as a freshman to 4.2. Benson passed the century mark just three times last season (Iowa State, Houston, North Carolina), although I can name but two Longhorns who might have fared better with the kind of blocking Benson had in 2002, and they both won Heismans. He was virtually a non-factor in losses to Oklahoma and Texas Tech.

Now, the second-team All-Big 12 selection has the look of a man on a mission. Midway through last season, he reported that he "was sick of it" (poor offensive production). His determined gait has much to do with his recovery from turf toe (suffered before the Oklahoma game) and a broken rib (apparently injured against the Sooners but which Benson did not publicly disclose until days before the Cotton Bowl).

"Cedric is more well than he was last fall," Brown said. "He’s had a great spring so far. He’s looked really good. Today he’s looked as good as he’s looked all spring."

With 2,346 career rushing yards, Benson trails only All-American Roosevelt Leaks for rushing after their first two seasons. The junior-to-be is one of only three returning Division I-A backs to have rushed for 1,000 yards the past two years.

To predict that Benson’s best days are ahead of him would hardly be…well…a stretch.

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