Has Benson Finally Arrived?

Top draft choice. Training camp holdout. Tailback of the future. Unjustified starter. Punishing change-of-page runner. Reluctant backup. Cedric Benson has been labeled many times during his short career in Chicago, but after Sunday's two-touchdown performance against Buffalo, perhaps he has finally become a true member of the Bears.

Second-year tailback Cedric Benson has certainly experienced a wild ride in Chicago, although the ride itself hasn't been overly enjoyable at times.

The 2005 first-round draft pick has had a difficult time earning time in the huddle on offense, and perhaps more importantly, he's had an equally difficult time earning the respect of his teammates in the locker room. Branded as aloof and selfish at times – unfairly or not – the former Longhorn has also had a tough time gaining the support of Bears fans. The only way he will truly be accepted will be with his efforts on the football field, but with Thomas Jones still ahead of him on the depth chart, Benson has had little opportunity to show what he can do.

But last Sunday at Soldier Field may have been his coming out party. In a 40-7 thrashing of the Bills, he saw extensive time in the backfield and delivered the first two touchdowns of his professional career. He finished the day with 48 yards on 14 carries, but that pair of scoring runs put a smile on Benson's face that we hadn't seen much since he was drafted No. 4 overall two Aprils ago.

That first touchdown had extra special meaning for Benson because a very special lady was on hand to see it.

"My mother was in the stands for the game when I got my first touchdown," Benson said on Thursday at Halas Hall. "I'm planning on keeping that ball. I'm not sure exactly where it is. I think I gave it to Tim (Bream) the trainer as I came to the sidelines. I know that I'll catch up with it eventually."

Benson certainly is no stranger to the end zone, having set all kinds of rushing records as a high-schooler in Midland and then again at the University of Texas, but he admitted that the feeling he had last Sunday was new to him.

"Getting that first NFL TD," Benson described, "that was the really important thing to me. It was a different experience completely from a touchdown in college. It was something I knew I'd be able to do eventually, but now that it is accomplished, I am much more self confident on the field."

The first player to greet him as he trotted back to the sideline? It was Jones, his supposed rival and starting-job roadblock.

Although there was rampant speculation about him pouting on the sideline after not getting a carry in Week 3 at Minnesota and not being sure of his role, Benson seems much more at peace with the way he is being utilized.

"I have no problem with the way the coaches have me working right now," he said. "Thomas is a really great RB, and I am happy to have the opportunity to come in and alternate with him as the game plan allows. I am here to learn all that I can at this time, and I am also here to show the coaches what I can do on the field. The NFL is all about production and making a difference for your team. That is what I am trying to do."

Arizona is just 1-4 right now and recently made the switch at quarterback from struggling veteran Kurt Warner to promising rookie Matt Leinart, but Benson knows that taking an opponent lightly can be disastrous.

"We are going to be looking at the Cardinal defensive schemes that they have shown in earlier games for most of this week," he said. "Yes, they are known as a physical defense, but I think we will be well prepared. They are going to be giving us a lot of different looks out there, so we'll be spending a lot of time studying the films. You can never be over-prepared."

Benson got a taste of the NFL spotlight a few Sundays ago in prime time against Seattle, but his first opportunity to play on Monday Night Football appears to be a motivating factor for him.

"Playing Monday night will be interesting," he said. "That's our second nationally televised game in a short time. It's great when your friends can see your game. I'm not anticipating any problems due to the travel or the time change. That's just something you make yourself get used to very quickly. I wouldn't say that we are overconfident at all. We are preparing hard and taking this game seriously, just as we will all of the rest of the games on our schedule. It's good to have the record that we do right now, and we intend to play at a high level in order to keep things going in a positive direction. I hope to get in there quite a bit and to make a strong impact."

Even coming off a two-touchdown performance like he had against Buffalo, Benson knows that it's his job to score TDs and expects to visit the end zone much more frequently this season.

"When I got the second touchdown, it wasn't nearly as important personally to me," said Benson. "Not like the first one anyway. Sure I was excited, but there will never be anything in my career, I think, like the feeling of the first one. I look at the second TD as the first of many more to come."

And what about that second touchdown ball?

"I don't know where the ball from the second touchdown is right now," Benson explained. "It just went somewhere on the sidelines as I came off the field. Having that first ball is good enough for me."


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