2007 review: The Bears finished the season ranked a dreadful 30th in rushing at 83.1 yards per game, plus they were tied for 25th in touchdowns (8), tied for 28th in fumbles lost (6), and dead last in yards per carry (3.1).
Thomas Jones was traded to the Jets last offseason specifically to open the door for Cedric Benson to be the primary ball-carrier, but he couldn't crack a single run longer than 16 yards until Week 10 at Seattle and ultimately fractured his ankle in Week 12 against Denver. Adrian Peterson did a nice job as a change of pace and was a reliable receiver out of the backfield on passing downs, although he proved to be no better than Benson by averaging just 2.8 yards per attempt in five starts to end the season. And while rookie Garrett Wolfe showed some wiggle in limited opportunities, he was a fixture on the bench for several weeks and got buried alive when trying to run between the tackles.
GM Jerry Angelo did not speak very highly of Benson in his season-ending press conference, going so far as to say that there will be much more competition for carries next year.
On the rise: Wolfe may never be a featured back in this league because of his diminutive stature, but he can have success on Sundays if utilized properly. Kevin Faulk has carved out a nice career for himself in New England as a return man and third-down specialist, and while the presence of Devin Hester means Wolfe won't be on the punt-return team any time soon, he is capable of making big plays on draws and screens. Peterson is a pro's pro and a fan favorite at Soldier Field, but offensive coordinator Ron Turner would be wise to consider Wolfe as his primary backup next season instead of Peterson.
Free falling: Benson was arguably better than Jones down the stretch in 2006 and had a golden opportunity to break out in 2007, but he was a major disappointment on every level. He seemed a bit slower than in previous years, didn't break tackles at the line of scrimmage or out in space, and continually dropped passes out of the backfield. And while the former Longhorn still believes it would be foolish to bring in another runner in the offseason, expect Angelo to do just that.
RB Garrett Wolfe
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Free agency/NFL Draft: Benson's injury will take some time to heal and most likely sideline him for the offseason program, which means the door is open for somebody else to lay claim to the starting job. Chicago native Michael Turner of the Chargers will attract a lot of attention in free agency, but a second-tier player like Julius Jones of the Cowboys or Justin Fargas of the Raiders could also push Benson back to secondary status. Even though Angelo might not want to draft another running back early considering the investment he laid out for Benson three years ago, a Round-2 prospect like Chris Johnson of East Carolina or Ray Rice of Rutgers could be quite intriguing.
2008 preview: As tends to be the case for first-round picks under Lovie Smith's reign, Benson will probably be given the benefit of the doubt as the starter once again. Peterson, on the other hand, could be in trouble since he looks to be little more than a solid special-teams performer going forward. Wolfe impressed the coaching staff in December and could see his role increased next season, but expect a fourth name to be thrown into the mix via free agency or the draft before training camp begins.
John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.