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Sunday, August 23, 1998

Cowboys' Benson sidelined with knee injury

By Clarence E. Hill Jr.

Knight Ridder Newspapers


IRVING, Texas - Any postgame euphoria from the Cowboys over their first solid offensive performance of the preseason was tempered yesterday when it was revealed that defensive tackle Darren Benson was lost for the season with a knee injury.

Benson - who went down late in second half of Saturday's 22-14 loss to the St. Louis Rams, which was highlighted by an impressive showing by the Cowboys first-team offense - was diagnosed with sprained right knee after the game.

But a magnetic resonance imaging test detected a torn anterior cruciate ligament. The fourth-year tackle is scheduled to have season-ending surgery in a few weeks.

It is the third major knee injury of the preseason for the Cowboys, who lost linebacker Broderick Thomas and cornerback Wendell Davis to season-ending knee injuries during training camp.

A subdued Cowboys coach Chan Gailey said the loss of Benson was a major setback.

"The guy was playing really well," Gailey said. "He worked himself into a great position to play a lot on our football team. So it hurts a great deal."

Benson's injury leaves the Cowboys with just two healthy defensive tackles in Antonio Anderson and Chad Hennings for Thursday's final preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

All-Pro defensive tackle Leon Lett, who has been out the past two weeks with a sprained left knee, is expected back for the season opener Sept. 6 against the Arizona Cardinals.

The Cowboys plan to use Anderson to backup at both tackle spots when Lett comes back. Defensive ends Hurvin McCormack and Michael Myers will also help out at tackle.

Making Benson's injury tough is that it came just as the Cowboys were rounding out their roster for tomorrow's reduction to 60 players. Gailey, who said the Cowboys would have had more flexibility if the injury had occurred during training camp, said the team would not try to add a player to replace Benson.

While injury is bad for the Cowboys, it's worse for 6-foot-7, 308-pound Benson, who was finally looking like he was going to live up to the enormous potential the Cowboys saw in him when they drafted him in 1995 at age 20 after just two years of junior-college football at Trinity Valley.

With no major-college football background, the youthful Benson had trouble adjusting to the pro game. He drew attention in 1996 when he quit the team during spring minicamps because he wanted to work in construction. The Cowboys talked him back to the team for training camp, but he suffered another setback when he tore the anterior and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee and was lost for the 1996 season.

He battled back to make the team last season and thanks to the maturing process was on the brink of being a solid contributor this season as Hennings' primary backup.

"It's tougher on him than it is on us," Gailey said.

(c) 1998, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

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All content copyright 1998, AP, KRT, The Abilene Reporter-News and Reporter OnLine
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