Depth Affords Option to Rest Jones

Cedric Benson and Adrian Peterson didn't play well enough on Sunday to take Thomas Jones' job as the Bears' featured running back. But their combined 137 yards on 20 carries will make it a lot easier for coach Lovie Smith to give his banged-up starter a rest if he needs one next Sunday against the 49ers.

The Bears still aren't saying that Jones has anything more than bruised ribs, but the injury was serious enough to keep him out of the second half Sunday after 11 first-half carries for 40 yards.

"I saw Thomas at halftime, and I could tell he was in pain," offensive coordinator Ron Turner said. "And then (head athletic trainer) Tim (Bream) came and told me he was out."

Jones had X-rays last week to rule out fractured ribs, and the Bears say they will take the same precaution this week.

"We pretty much know what the situation is," coach Lovie Smith said. "We haven't ruled (cracked ribs) out, but we think that's safe to say."

Still, if the Bears' brain trust determines that Jones would benefit from a week off, the decision will be easier to make knowing the football is in good hands with the rookie Benson and the four-year veteran Peterson, each of whom had a 36-yard run against the Saints. Jones has practiced sparingly for a month, first with a sprained knee and last week with the sore ribs. It might be time to let the understudies take the spotlight and pick up the slack, as they did Sunday.

"Thomas, two weeks (in a row) having the same problem, yeah, we'll probably tend to lean in that direction, since we do have the guys (to back him up)," coach Lovie Smith said. "But Thomas will play if he's ready to go physically, and we'll never put him out there if he's not. We'll rest Thomas if we just don't feel like he's ready to go. Last week we thought he was ready to go. Each game we're going to go with our best team, the best one we feel can help us win."

After a slow start in which he failed to average more than 3.3 yards in any of the first six games, Benson has gained 114 on 17 carries the past two weeks for a 6.7-yard average. Peterson is averaging 7.1 yards on his 12 carries this season, twice as many as he got in all of 2004.

Despite being the fourth overall pick in this year's draft, Benson has been forced to bide his time on the bench. He missed all of training camp while his contract was being negotiated, and Jones has been one of the league's hottest runners, so there was no need for Benson to play much.

"Thomas is having a great year, and Cedric has been a capable backup behind him, waiting for his opportunity," Smith said. "We said all along, and we've let Cedric know it's a long season, and we're going to need all three running backs during the course of the year, and that's how it's panned out. You just have to wait your turn, which he's done. He's been a team player and that's what we expected him to do.

"We're halfway through the season, and Thomas has an injury right now, which is giving Cedric and Adrian a chance to play, and that's how it goes."

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