Bears Play Hardball

Lake Forest - After breaking camp without Cedric Benson the Bears are turning up the heat on the only first round pick yet to sign. GM Jerry Angelo let his feelings be known through a press release.

"After missing all of training camp, we want to make it abundantly clear that the Chicago Bears have made their best and final offer to Cedric Benson," Angelo said. "No dollars are left on the bargaining table, and at this point the only contract discussions that will be entertained will be reflective of the considerable loss of value to the Club created by the player's extended absence."

Reading between the lines, it appears Angelo is willing to begin taking money off the table. The Bears have a history with Eugene Parker that includes recent first round picks Rex Grossman and Tommie Harris, who were both on the practice field for the first day of training camp.

"The Chicago Bears have always placed a premium on having our players in camp on time, and recent history reflects our excellent track record," Angelo said. "Our last four number one draft picks have been signed on time for the opening of training camp."

Negotiations have taken a detour because Benson's camp continues to ask for money closer to what third round pick Braylon Edwards signed for as opposed to splitting the difference between his deal and that of fifth pick Cadillac Williams.

Lovie Smith has said as recently as Wednesday that he was "disappointed" that Benson missed the entire training camp and mirrored Angelo's statement on Thursday.

"I'm behind Jerry 100 percent," Smith said.

Benson's holdout will reach 27 days on Friday, which would tie Curtis Enis for the longest holdout of any Bears' draft pick. Enis missed a rookie camp and then 27 days of training camp before agreeing to terms in 1998, when he was the fifth overall selection.

Thomas Jones has carried the ball 21 times for 90 yards in the preseason. The first team offense is expected to play 20-25 snaps, but the quality behind him is a major question without Benson.

Smith would not say where Benson would be on the depth chart when he does agree to terms. At this point, Adrian Peterson has taken the majority of the second string reps and has carried the ball 19 times for 90 yards and a touchdown in the preseason.

If the Bears were to start the season without Benson, it would leave the Bears thin at running back. Despite the additional work in the preseason, Peterson has 47 career carries in three years.

Aside from Jones and Peterson, quarterback Kyle Orton is third in the preseason with four rushing attempts.

"If we have to (play without Benson) we can," said offensive coordinator Ron Turner said. "We'll do what we have to do, it's obviously disappointing he's not here, but we'll just focus on the guys that are here and move forward."

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