Benson Finally Becomes the Starter

Cedric Benson has wanted to be the primary ball-carrier in Chicago ever since he was drafted No. 4 overall back in 2005. He had to wait two full seasons, but he will finally get that chance in 2007. With Thomas Jones being traded to the New York Jets on Monday, Benson will be elevated to the top of the depth chart immediately.

For Cedric Benson, there are no more excuses.

No more talk about the coaching staff not giving him a fair shake. No more accusations that he's being treated unfairly in the locker room. No more bickering about the media creating controversies that don't really exist.

As Henry Lipkin so eloquently stated in Good Will Hunting, "No more shenanigans, no more tomfoolery, no more ballyhoo."

All Benson says he wants is an opportunity to be The Man in the backfield for the Chicago Bears, and that's exactly what he got on Monday.

GM Jerry Angelo traded Thomas Jones to the New York Jets for the right to flip-flop second-round picks in next month's NFL Draft. The Bears move up 26 spots and will now select 37th in Round 2, while the Jets move back 26 spots to 63rd but land themselves the featured runner they so desperately needed last season after Curtis Martin was lost to injury.

Not only does Angelo now have a better chance to fill the remaining holes on his roster, but he finally gets to see what he has in Benson.

A four-year workhorse at the University of Texas, Benson came to the Bears with the No. 4 overall selection in the 2005 draft. He finished his college career with 5,540 rushing yards, sixth-most in Division I history. He won the Doak Walker Award as a senior and appeared to be the next great tailback for the Monsters of the Midway.

The trouble was, the Bears already had one and didn't even know it.

Jones was a colossal bust with Arizona, never rushing for more than 511 yards in three seasons with the Cardinals despite being drafted No. 7 overall in 2000. He came to the Bears in 2004 after one season in Tampa Bay and managed to gain 948 yards his first season in Chicago. Not bad, but hardly enough to convince the front office that he could be a difference-maker in the backfield for the foreseeable future.

Apparently, Jones just needed a little extra motivation.

With Benson now on the roster and ready to take over at a moment's notice, Jones responded with a breakout year in 2005. He set career highs with 314 carries, 1,335 yards, and nine touchdowns and single-handedly carried the Bears' 29th-ranked offense to the NFC North title. Benson played in only nine games and finished with a measly 272 yards.

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Nevertheless, the organization was fully prepared to make Benson the starter in 2006 before he was sidelined with a training camp shoulder injury. Jones started all 16 games again, running for 1,210 yards and six TDs in the regular season and racking up 301 more in three postseason games. Benson played well at times in a reserve role with 647 yards and six scores of his own, but he was never able to wrestle the starting gig away from the veteran.

With Jones now out of the picture, Benson has no more obstacles in his way.

Unless, of course, you count his dubious injury history, which includes a sprained knee on his second carry of Super Bowl XLI. Or his shakey-at-best reputation with teammates in the locker room. Or his uncanny ability to put his foot in his mouth when there's a microphone in the vicinity.

He may be the unquestioned top dog on the depth chart these days, but Benson still has some work to do.

Most of that work, however, has very little to do with what transpires on the gridiron. Not only was Jones extremely productive with the ball in his hands, but he was universally respected at Halas Hall and earned a legion of supporters at Soldier Field. He played hard, he played hurt, and even though he was often overworked and most certainly underpaid, he played well.

Benson, on the other hand, has battled a reputation as a loner who doesn't get along with his teammates. He has picked the most inopportune times to complain about playing time and became a clubhouse distraction on several occasions. And although he runs with a bruising style and seemingly enjoys handing out punishment, he has dealt with a laundry list of nagging injuries since putting on a Bears uniform.

Few doubt that Benson is more talented than Jones and could ultimately be a much better running back, yet he was not the people's choice for the job.

If Benson rushes for 1,500 yards next season and scores a dozen touchdowns, it shouldn't come as a surprise. Shaun Alexander had to wait his turn behind Ricky Watters for one year in Seattle, just like Larry Johnson had to sit and watch Priest Holmes for two in Kansas City.

That being said, if Benson only starts six games because he battles a nagging hamstring injury and asks to be traded after the season because he's tired of dealing with the media circus, that may not come as much of a surprise either. He cried after the Bears chose him in the draft two years ago, yet it's never been determined if those were tears of joy or tears of disappointment.

Only one thing is for sure: we'll know a lot more about Benson this time next year than we do right now. But what will our conclusion be?

All Benson wanted was to be in control of his own destiny. Now that he's got it, he had better make the most of it.

John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and Editor in Chief of BearReport.com. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.

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