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Fantasy Football: Cedric Benson the point-gainer?

Forgive the cliché, but desperate times often do call for desperate measures.

Spinal Tap turned to a free-form jazz exploration (Jazz Odyssey) after suffering the indignity of falling below a puppet show on the marquee at Stockton's Pixie Woods.

When Michael Bolton determined his career as a heavy metal axeman was going nowhere, he started "singing" cheese-tastic love songs to desperate housewives who were drawn to his warbling like Pavlovian hounds.

And on Sunday, we could very well be starting Cedric Benson, the former first-round bust who ran afoul of the law before being run out of Chicago.

Yes, the same Cedric Benson we once implored you to avoid like tuna coladas and any dessert dish to which the word "meringue" is attached.

So why even for one week tie the fate of a competitive team -- being just 50 points out of third and 300 out of second qualifies us -- to a player with a checkered past who hasn't yet passed the audition with the worst team in football?

Because Benson is more desperate than I am, and nothing get results faster than desperation.

His poor judgment on and off the field signed his ticket out of Chicago and put him in a class with names like Leaf and Mandarich. But the former University of Texas star was thrown a life preserver by Cincinnati two weeks ago, and he's impressed with his attitude and work ethic to the point that the Bengals have all but declared him the focus of their running game, for what that's worth.

At 0-5, the Bengals, too, are desperate for a spark, and Benson could very well provide it.

Forget for a moment the labels "soft" and "unmotivated" that were once attached to Benson and look at him and his current circumstance:

He's a 5-foot-11-inch, 220-pound back in impeccable shape with elite skills.

He's hungry for redemption and, at 25, entering what should be the prime of a career he's been given a golden opportunity to resurrect.

Benson won't be burdened by unreasonable expectations in Cincinnati. He carried 10 times for 30 yards (his longest run of the day being 10 yards) last week against Dallas and was being applauded by his coach and teammates.

He has little competition between nowhere man Kenny Watson, who was waived last week then brought back this week, and fumble-fingered Chris Perry, who has treated the ball like it was just removed from the belly of an active volcano.

He has an opportunity, which is half the equation in fantasy sports. And should he take advantage of said opportunity, 10 carries for 30 yards in Week 5 could become 20 to 25 carries for 80 to 100 yards on a regular basis.

We're not saying it will, only that it could.

Don't confuse anything here for a ringing endorsement. We know full well that Benson could fail the audition and be back on the unemployment line before October expires. But there's also the chance that he could flourish and turn into a reliable every-week back at no cost.

Bye weeks are upon us and running backs are dropping like flies. If one, the other or both have you in a bind, here's a low-risk/high-reward player who could be seeing up to 20 carries per game from here on out.

If he tanks, goodbye. No harm, no foul. Heck, I activated and started no-name receivers Kevin Walter and Lance Moore last week (hurry back, Willie Parker), hoping one or the other would pan out, which neither did. But if I'm willing to give guys like that a shot, why would I be afraid to take a chance on a former No. 4 overall draft pick who has nothing to lose and everything to gain?

We say if you're thin at RB and looking for a one-week fill-in, you could do worse than Benson, who could become the lightning-in-a-bottle player we all covet.

Stu Rosenberg's fantasy sports column runs Fridays. He can be reached at srosenberg@modbee.com or 578-2300.

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