Positional Analysis: Backfield

The Bears rotation at running back goes three deep and allowed the offense to rush for more than 2,000 yards for the first time in more than a decade. Despite the success of Thomas Jones as the starter there could be a change at the top in 2006?

BACKFIELD: Starters - RB Thomas Jones, FB Bryan Johnson. Backups - RB Cedric Benson, RB Adrian Peterson, FB Jason McKie.

Even though Benson was the fourth overall pick in 2004, Jones will go to camp as the starter based on a career-best 1,335-yard season.

"Thomas had a great year," said coach Lovie Smith. "As we talk about all the positions we have a starting rotation but it's just that. Every position we have there's a starting rotation. Thomas is definitely No. 1 in our starting rotation but all guys know that they have to perform a certain way to stay there."

Jones excels at interpreting what his blockers are doing and what the defense wants to do. He is a legendary worker with too much pride to allow anyone to take his job without a fight. Although he came to the Bears with questionable durability, he has played with pain and provided a consistent running threat who blocks well and can catch.

In between a month-long holdout and a sprained knee that sidelined him for six weeks, Benson showed promise with the strength and vision to run between the tackles and enough speed to make it to the second level. While his ability as a pass catcher and blocker are still unproven, having additional practice reps that he missed out on as a rookie could prove vital.

"The next year is normally a lot better than that rookie year and I see it that way for Cedric," Smith said. "He won't miss training camp this year, he'll be in the off-season program, he's a good football player, we like the way he finished also. He didn't get a chance to show it a lot except for practice but I like where Cedric is right now and with an off-season program he should come back stronger and we'll get a chance to see the guy that we drafted in the first round, hopefully early in the season."

Peterson emerged as a legitimate backup, capable in every phase of the game, and he averaged a team-best 5.1 yards per carry. He's also a valuable member of the special teams squad.

Johnson was healthy for less than half the season because of a lingering foot injury from last season and a separate foot ailment that ended his 2005 season early. The Bears love his ability as a lead blocker, and if he's healthy, he should be back as the starter. If not, McKie is a similar player and has gained starting experience over the past two seasons when Johnson has missed time.

There's no reason to believe the running game will not be the strength of the offense again in 2006. The three-headed monster of Jones, Benson and Peterson proved difficult for any team to stop. If the passing game can be upgraded through the draft and free agency, the ground attack will reap the benefits of not having to consistently face eight defenders on the line of scrimmage.

Scout.com contributed to this report.

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