Reversal of Fortune

What a difference a year makes for Thomas Jones. Last season he entered training camp as the unquestioned starter after signing a four-year $10 million deal with the Bears. While he remains atop the depth chart at this point, it appears he's just holding onto the keys of the car until Cedric Benson is ready to drive.

Benson was chosen with the fourth overall pick in the draft to be the Bears' franchise running back, even though Jones rushed for 948 yards and caught a Bears-best 56 passes last season. Benson seems to be better suited to be the workhorse, between-the-tackles runner that new offensive coordinator Ron Turner's scheme demands. Still Jones, who was thought to be the ideal back for Terry Shea's system, is excited about the prospect of working with Turner.

"I like the fact that he's really consistent in running the ball," Jones said. "Last year we were running the ball not as much as I wanted to. You know, a running back like me, I need to get the ball so I can get carries and get myself into a groove. But he seems very adamant about running the ball."

General manager Jerry Angelo obviously considers Benson to be an upgrade over Jones, who may have a difficult time adjusting to a backup job, since he was brought in just a year earlier to be the main man.

In many ways Jones is reliving history. He came to Chicago after four disappointing seasons in the league. In both Arizona and Tampa Bay he had to share the ball with Michael Pittman and never touched the ball more than 161 times in a single season. He saw an opportunity in Chicago to escape the mediocrity and become a featured back. His presence drove Anthony Thomas out of town.

Now Benson presents an even more difficult challenge than what Jones did to Thomas a year ago.

"I'm the starter and I go about my business and do what I have to do," Jones said.

Missing practices is not doing anything for Benson's cause in terms of taking the job from Jones.

"We have so much going on on the field right now we really can't think and talk about Cedric until he gets into camp," said head coach Lovie Smith.

Still in the long run, chances are, the odd man out - probably Jones -- is not going to get nearly enough playing time to keep him content. His role will fall into that of a glorified third down back. Touches will be limited to what is available on part time basis.

But if Benson turns out to be the type of back who can carry an offense, as he was at Texas, the Bears will have a player to build around for years to come.

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