Benson: Childhood dreams are now here
By Matt Trowbridge
ROCKFORD REGISTER STAR
LAKE FOREST – Cedric Benson doesn’t like controversy.
“I’m not a guy big on hype or being the center of attention,” the Bears’ third-year running back said. “Any time I can keep that low and cool, that’s good.”
Benson couldn’t avoid it in the past. Chicago grabbed him with the fourth overall pick in the draft to replace Thomas Jones, who promptly became the only Bear other than Walter Payton to top 1,300 yards rushing in a season. For two years, the Benson or Jones question ranked second only to quarterback as Chicago’s longest-running soap opera.
“I tried my best not to let it be a distraction, but people talk about it so much it becomes a distraction,” Benson said after minicamp practice Saturday.
Not any more. The job, at last, is his. The Bears traded Jones to the Jets this winter to clear the way for Benson.
“We’re excited about Cedric Benson moving into the No. 1 running back position,” coach Lovie Smith said.
While Benson runs with more power and Jones with more elusiveness, the end result was the same last year: both averaged 4.1 yards per carry. Jones, though, had twice as many carries. The Bears feel Benson will improve with more chances.
“The more carries backs get, the better they get,” offensive coordinator Ron Turner said. “Now he can bring the full force of his athletic ability. All he has needed is a chance to play every day. He’s a complete back. He can run the ball inside. He can run it outside.”
He ran it only twice in the Super Bowl, fumbling on the first carry and injuring his left knee on the second. When he didn’t after the first quarter, Benson, who finally became a fan favorite with his hard running in the second half of the season, was on the outs again. Fans and some media groused he should have toughed it out.
“That doesn’t make me feel bad,” Benson said. “It was the Super Bowl. Everybody wanted that. I wanted it too, but I couldn’t contribute.
“I was injured enough so that I couldn’t play. Had it been a regular-season game, I’m not sure how much I would have missed, but I know I would have been out a couple of weeks.”
Benson says he’s healthy now. And eager to finally play the role he was drafted to fill: to be the every down star running back for a franchise that produced Walter Payton, Gale Sayers and Bronko Nagurski, but hasn’t had a Pro Bowl runner since Neal Anderson 15 years ago.
“I love the challenge,” Benson said. “This is a large opportunity for me to set the record straight. I just want to put it all on the line and show what I can do.
“It’s a great moment for me. It’s finally here. The moment I’ve been waiting for, the dreams I’ve dreamed of as a kid, they are here now. I’ve got a chance to achieve all those many goals that were there when I was 6, 7 years old.”
Assistant sports editor Matt Trowbridge can be reached at: 815-987-1383 or firstname.lastname@example.org.