Should the Bears Steer Clear of UT?

The Chicago Bears thought Cedric Benson was going to be the next Earl Campbell, but he hasn't even been the next Ricky Williams. Now comes the news that the Midway Monsters are interested in another Texas tailback, Jamaal Charles. Do they dare roll the dice with another Longhorn?

It seems ridiculous to think that certain college football players aren't capable of realizing big-time success in the NFL simply because of the position they play and the program where they played it. Just like it's equally ridiculous to assume other players will automatically succeed on Sundays for the very same reasons.

Wide receivers from the University of Florida have gotten a bad rap, and perhaps deservedly so. If you scan the list of single-season receiving yardage leaders in Gators history, you'll see the likes of Travis McGriff (1,357 in 1998), Reidel Anthony (1,293 in 1996), and Taylor Jacobs (1,088 in 2002). Yet McGriff caught only five career passes as a third-round pick of the Broncos, Anthony never had more than 51 receptions in a season going 16th overall in Round 1 to the Buccaneers, and Jacobs has just 37 grabs in five years as a second-rounder of the Redskins.

However, Darrell Jackson went in the third round to the Seahawks in 2000, and he cracked the 1,000-yard plateau three times and averaged almost seven touchdowns a season during his stay in Seattle.

On the other side of the coin, the University of Miami has been cleverly nicknamed "Quarterback U" for quite some time, and the Hurricanes have the passing pedigree to back it up. Vinny Testaverde is eighth on the NFL's all-time list for touchdown passes (275), while Hall-of-Famer Jim Kelly is 18th (237). Bernie Kosar (124) will always be a legend in Cleveland, even if he never got the Browns to a Super Bowl.


RB Ricky Williams
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

That being said, Gino Torretta won the Heisman Trophy during his stint in Coral Gables just like Testaverde did, yet he completed only five of 16 career throws for a passer rating of 35.6 in two seasons – one with the Vikings and one with the Seahawks.

When you think of the University of Texas, you immediately conjure up images of running the football. Earl Campbell took the Heisman in 1977 and was a five-time Pro Bowler after being drafted No. 1 overall by the old Oilers, rushing for 9,407 yards and scoring 74 touchdowns in just eight seasons as a pro. Ricky Williams, a Heisman winner himself in 1998, ended his reign in Austin as the college game's all-time leading rusher and topped 1,000 yards four straight years in the NFL from 2000-03.

So when Cedric Benson – one of the most prolific runners in Texas high school football history, one of the most prolific runners in college football history, and supposedly the next in a lengthy line of great Longhorn gallopers – was on the board at No. 4 overall in the 2005 NFL Draft, the Chicago Bears simply couldn't say no.

Even though he reminded everyone of the similarly dreadlocked Williams, who had morphed into a league-wide laughingstock after several drug-related suspensions. Even though they already had late-bloomer Thomas Jones, who had just come off a 948-yard performance in 14 games the year before. Even though the last ball-carrier the organization took that high, Curtis Enis of Penn State at No. 5 in 1998, was a colossal disappointment.

As every fan of the Midway Monsters knows by now, Benson is well on his way to being a colossal disappointment, too.

After a lengthy contract holdout before his rookie season, Benson made immediate enemies in the locker room and finished his rookie campaign with just 272 yards on 67 carries – and he didn't find the end zone once. He seemed to turn it around in 2006 as the Bears made their way to Super Bowl XLI, pairing with Jones to form one of the better tailback tandems in the NFC and averaging 4.1 yards per rush. But with Jones shipped off to the Jets and the starting gig handed to him on a silver platter this past season, Benson stumbled his way to only 674 yards on 196 attempts and went 10 games before breaking a run longer than 16 yards.

Benson's 2007 was cut short in Week 12 when he fractured his ankle against the Broncos, and it appears the injury is serious enough to keep him out of the team's offseason program.

Ross Lucksinger, Editor of InsideTexas.com, has seen a different Benson in the Windy City than he saw in the Live Music Capital of the World.

"He seems much more tentative and easier to be taken down than the tough, hard-nosed, consistent runner I saw at Texas," says Lucksinger. "Perhaps it is the injury. Perhaps it's the cold. I don't know, but something he had while wearing burnt orange just isn't there when he dons the navy blue."

To be fair, the Bears started three different quarterbacks and endured terrible play from an aging offensive line all year long, but general manager Jerry Angelo seemed most disappointed with his runners – he didn't name Benson specifically, however – and professed there would be more competition for carries in 2008.

That competition will apparently come in the form of a draft pick, as Angelo hasn't entertained any backs in free agency. Several prospects have been rumored to be on his watch list, including Niles West graduate Rashard Mendenhall of Illinois and 2,000-yard rusher Matt Forte of Tulane. But the latest name being floated around at Halas Hall is quite an intriguing one to say the least.


RB Jamaal Charles
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Tim Yotter of Scout.com has confirmed that the Bears have scheduled a private workout Apr. 2 with Jamaal Charles, who just happens to hail from the very same University of Texas.

Bears fans are probably cringing at the idea of another lumbering Longhorn in the backfield, but Lucksinger maintains that Benson was more of a punisher while Charles relies more on his speed.

"[Charles] is not a perfect back by any means," Lucksinger says, "and he has yet to prove he can be a consistent running back over the long term. But he has great potential, and his speed alone makes him worth looking at."

A patient runner who reads his blocks well, Charles (6-1 1/4, 205) can turn the corner quickly and gets up to top speed in a hurry. Unlike Benson, he caught the ball out of the backfield beautifully at his pro day and doesn't mind getting his hands dirty in pass protection. But he has a high center of gravity with his erect running style and tends to take a number of big hits, plus he has a history of putting the ball on the ground just a little too often.

Charles isn't one of the elite prospects in this very deep crop of backs, but he ran the 40-yard dash in a blazing 4.38 seconds at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis and is being given a second-round grade by many experts.

"Rest assured," Lucksinger promises, "Cedric Benson and Jamaal Charles are two very different running backs."

Bears backers can only hope so should Charles make his way to Chicago, because they're not exactly hooked on the Horns these days.

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.


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