Last season Benson started at a huge disadvantage because of a month-long holdout and never challenged Jones for the job, as the veteran compiled his most productive NFL season, rushing for 1,335 yards. Benson carried just 67 times for 272 yards, as his freshman season was further retarded by a sprained knee in his first start that caused him to miss the next six games. Now, Benson is healthy, he'll be at camp on time, and he knows the offense. But Benson still is not the favorite. There is no chance that Jones won't be in tip-top shape regardless of how much of the off-season program he missed. Jones is a legendary weight room worker, and Benson's mere presence last season seemed to inspire him to new heights.
Nevertheless, the Bears didn't use such a lofty pick to employ Benson as a backup or a change-of-pace guy. He has always been a workhorse back, and he has always been very productive. Jones enters camp as No. 1, but Benson is probably no worse than 1A, and he could take the job with an impressive preseason.
Unless Benson is a total bust, he should at least wind up splitting carries in a Bears offense that aspires to be heavily run-oriented.
DETROIT LIONS PLAYERS TO WATCH
The Lions say that Sims was cleared by the team of medics that examined him and his medical records during the NFL scouting combine. Team president Matt Millen said he would not have drafted Sims in the first round if he had not been cleared by the Lions medical staff.
The fact remains, however, that Sims had no less than five concussions at Florida State and his aggressive, hard-nosed style of play makes him a candidate for head injuries.
If he can indeed avoid additional injuries, Sims brings the type of play the Lions have been lacking in recent years and the style that is sure to be appreciated by coach Rod Marinelli.
Sims has been compared to Tampa Bay All-Pro linebacker Derrick Brooks and the Lions defensive staff feels he can be extremely effective as a weak-side linebacker, capable of running down plays all over the field and also handling coverage assignments.
Sims still has to win a job, however. Marinelli and defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson didn't give him the No. 1 job in mini-camp and he won't get it in training camp unless they feel he has earned it.
Jones has been nicked with minor injuries in his first two seasons and the previous coaching staff never quite bought into him as the back capable of carrying the load. He shared playing time with Shawn Bryson and Artose Pinner, even when he was healthy.
Bryson is still expected to get playing time because he does the best job in blitz pickup and is also a capable receiver coming out of the backfield.
Although some still see him as a one-cut running back, Jones seems to give the Lions the best big-play potential and it is expected he will get a chance to establish himself in the Mike Martz offense, which relies greatly on the running game.
His first three seasons have been a huge disappointment, in part because of elements beyond his control and in part due to his own poor decisions. He suffered a broken collarbone five games into his rookie season and missed the rest of the year; he suffered another broken collarbone in the 2004 season opener and didn't play again all year; and last season he missed four games for violating the NFL's substance abuse rules, then came back with a lackadaisical attitude that didn't endear him to anyone in the franchise.
It adds up to minimal production (36 catches for 440 yards and four touchdowns in three seasons).
Despite speculation that the Lions might dump him, it seems Rogers will get at least one more chance. Martz apparently sees in him some of the things Millen thought he saw three years ago — the speed, the ability to make acrobatic catches and the potential for big plays.
It he doesn't show it quickly, however, and if he doesn't show more effort, it could be the end of his Lions career.
So Millen reluctantly gave Wilkinson his freedom and now the Lions look to Cody to move into the starting lineup.
Although the Lions will miss Wilkinson, his mass and his experience, there is an unspoken feeling around the Allen Park headquarters that Cody might actually fit better into Marinelli and Henderson's aggressive defensive system.
He's young, is quicker and more athletic than Wilkinson could be at this stage of his career, and he can probably do more of the things Marinelli wants from his defensive linemen. And with Rogers getting most of the attention from opposing offensive linemen, Cody will have a chance to show his stuff.
GREEN BAY PACKERS PLAYERS TO WATCH
The Packers figure to have Green up to speed by mid-August, if not sooner, but there's no telling if he'll bear any resemblance to the four-time Pro Bowl back who was the league's leading ground gainer from 2000 to ‘04. There were signs that Green was beginning to tail off before he got hurt, as he averaged a career-low 3.3 yards — a substantial drop-off of 1.4 yards from what he compiled his first seven years as a pro.
Green Bay showed good faith that Green, 29, can return to form by re-signing him to a one-year, incentive-laden contract in free agency. If Green can give the Packers a good return on the investment, their foundering running game should be back up to snuff and Brett Favre won't feel obligated to do everything himself, which was the team's undoing in 2005.
Just a few weeks after getting the Packers to open the coffers and sign the prized free agent to a seven-year, $39 million contract, Woodson bailed on the club after making a cameo appearance at the post-draft minicamp. Supposedly, he was traveling overseas and didn't bother reporting for a second minicamp as well as organized team activities.
The first order of business for the Packers in camp will be to check Woodson's frame of mind. They need his undivided commitment for at least this season, when Woodson could earn as much as $10 million if he's on his best behavior and on top of his game.
The latter scenario is as up in the air as the first because Woodson has been damaged goods the last few years, with the production following suit. Keeping Woodson healthy, both physically and mentally, is a must to make Al Harris happy on the other side.
Veterans Robert Ferguson and Rod Gardner will get first crack at being the complementary receiver to Driver, but Jennings is an intriguing rookie prospect. Standing 5-foot-11, he doesn't fit the prototype for receiver in first-year coach Mike McCarthy's version of the West Coast offense. The second-round draft pick out of Western Michigan, though, stood out in off-season workouts with quickness and for being a quick study.
If Ryan can make headway in fine-tuning his get-off and hang times, Sander's shaky stay in Green Bay won't be much longer.