Good Reason for Benson's Inactivity

First-round running back Cedric Benson's lack of production isn't a concern to the Bears as long as Thomas Jones continues putting up the best numbers of his career and some of the best in the NFL.

Jones is on pace for 1,606 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns with a 4.6-yard average. That, more than anything, has kept Benson under wraps and has kept the Bears from fretting over his slow start.

"I'm excited about what we're able to do running the run the football right now," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "Cedric is a good football player. We know that. In time, he will show that to everyone. But right now, we have Thomas Jones, who's having as good a football season as any running back in the NFL as we see it.

"That's what's ahead of (Benson). That's how I see it right now. Cedric's time will come. All first-round draft choices don't get a chance to play right away. Each situation is different. We like Cedric as much as we ever did. He's going to be an outstanding player in time."

But that time probably won't be today against the Ravens at 3:15 in Soldier Field, as Jones didn't have any repercussions from his 23-carry, 89-yard effort last week on a sprained right knee. Both teams are 2-3 and have relied heavily on strong defensive play to offset impotent offense.

Jones has been largely responsible for the only consistently productive aspect of the Bears' offense, rushing for over 100 yards in three straight games before last week. What looks like a career year for Jones is god for the Bears' offense, but it's been bad for the development of Benson, whom the Bears took with the fourth overall pick when it appeared they had much greater needs, like at wide receiver or cornerback.

Benson has 8 carries for 8 yards in the past three games and is averaging 2.5 yards per carry this season with 67 yards on 27 attempts.

A week ago, Benson had just three carries for two yards and remained on the bench, even with the Bears leading 21-3 following Thomas Jones' 24-yard TD run with 13:03 left in the game. Jones, who was playing on a sprained right knee, nevertheless was still on the field with 4:11 left to score his second touchdown on a 1-yard run, as Benson remained idle.

"Thomas was running the ball well," said Benson, who has remained seemingly unaffected so far by his lack of playing time. "I didn't get much of a chance."

Bears coach Lovie Smith was asked why.

"I didn't see that there was a big edge there until late," Smith said of the 25-point blowout. "They could come back at any time. Our plan was to use Cedric, which we did. I wouldn't say that he took a step back. It's just a part of his growth, as he'll continue to work through some things."

Benson's growth has been stunted since he rushed 16 times for 49 yards in the 38-6 blowout of the Lion in Week Two. He didn't play at all the following week, then picked up just six yards on five carries and lost a fumble in his next outing, a week before the Vikings game.

Ironically, the Bears have been getting outstanding production from lower draft picks who weren't supposed to be much of a factor.

Second-round wide receiver Mark Bradley was considered a long-range project whose early contributions were expected to be on special teams, but he has already started two games with a third to come against Baltimore.

Fourth-round quarterback Kyle Orton wasn't even supposed to see the field this season, but he's preparing for his sixth NFL start, and he's had three games with a passer rating of more than 84.

Sixth-round safety Chris Harris from Division I-AA Louisiana-Monroe has started four games and picked off his first NFL pass against the Vikings.

But Benson appears to be regressing.

"The situation is different for different positions," Smith said. "Kyle, you know the circumstance on how that happened. Mark's in a little bit different situation, and Chris, too. In time all of them will contribute. As (it) happens, Cedric is behind Thomas Jones, who is having an outstanding year."


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