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Why Did Cedric Benson Fail In Chicago?

Through the first six weeks of the National Football League regular season, Cincinnati Bengals running back Cedric Benson has provided his team with something it had lacked during the last few years — a legitimate rushing attack. Benson currently leads the NFL in carries (127), ranks No. 3 in rushing yards (531) and averages a healthy 4.2 yards per carry. He also has scored four times and has topped the 100-yard rushing mark twice. Two weeks ago, Benson shredded the Baltimore Ravens for 120 rushing yards, which was the first time in 40 consecutive games that anyone had churned out 100+ yards on the ground against the vaunted Ravens defensive unit.

Why are the 26-year-old Benson’s Cincinnati achievements drawing so much attention? Benson, a former first-round pick (2005) of the Chicago Bears, had looked like a hopelessly washed up bust when they released him following three disappointing seasons. However, Benson, facing some tough odds, has resurrected his career. This Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium, Benson will face the team that fired him. Despite Benson’s claims to the contrary, he apparently feels that he has something to prove, and maybe he does. What went wrong for Benson in the Windy City? Bottom line: His teammates and Bears fans never accepted him, but Benson rarely did anything to impress anyone.

THE BENSON BIOGRAPHY

Born (December 28, 1982) and bred in Midland, Texas, Cedric Myron Benson played like a future NFL star at Robert E. Lee High School, compiling 8,423 rushing yards during his prep career, which was the fourth-highest total in school history and the most in Texas 5A history. Benson led Lee High School to three straight championship games, amassing 15 touchdowns in those contests. The pride of Midland accepted a scholarship offer to play at Texas, where he was a four-year starter.

CEDRIC BENSON – TEXAS CAREER

Year

G

ATT

YDS

AVE

TD

REC

YDS

AVE

TD

2001

12

223

1,053

4.7

12

17

203

11.9

1

2002

13

305

1,293

4.2

12

21

119

5.7

0

2003

12

258

1,360

5.3

21

09

120

13.3

1

2004

12

326

1,834

5.6

19

22

179

8.1

1

TOTALS

49

1,112

5,540

5.1

64

69

621

9.0

3

Benson earned Freshman All-American honors (2001), and he was named Second Team All-Big 12 as a sophomore (2002). As a junior (2003), Benson was named First Team All-Big 12. Following his senior season (2004), Benson earned First Team All-Big 12 Honors again and won the Doak Walker Award, which is given to the top running back in the nation. Benson’s 64 career touchdowns ranks No. 3 in NCAA history. His 5,540 rushing yards ranks No. 6 all-time in NCAA Division I-A history and second only to former Longhorn Ricky Williams (Dolphins) in Texas school history.

BENSON’S NFL YEARS

The Benson Pre-Draft Profile

Height: 5’11”

Weight: 230 pounds

40-Yard Dash: 4.55 seconds

Wonderlic: 19

Positives: A powerful, durable ball carrier, a between-the-tackles grinder, runs with good body lean, possesses excellent first-step quickness and body control, has a solid burst, runs with authority, usually tough to bring down, can break tackles and carry the pile, good vision, patient; willing to let blocks develop and follow them, has solid pass-catching skills.

Negatives: Goes down easily sometimes or finishes a play out of bounds, does not put a lot of effort into blocking, experienced fumbling problem during senior season, made selfish comments prior to junior season when asked to share the rushing load.

Determined to land a franchise runner, the Bears chose Benson with their first-round selection (No. 4 overall) in the 2005 Draft. What seemed like a perfect “marriage,” however, turned sour almost immediately. Benson held out for 36 days before finally agreeing to a five-year, $35 million deal with an estimated $17 million guaranteed. Soon after joining the team, Benson’s immaturity and penchant for speaking his mind with blunt comments got him into hot water. Despite not knowing the playbook, despite missing training camp and despite missing all of the Bears’ preseason games, Benson arrogantly declared that he would be starting by Week 3, which riled up many, especially supporters of starter Thomas Jones (Jets). In defense of Benson, he was thrown into an awkward situation. The former Texas star was the heir apparent to Jones, who was the unquestioned leader of Chicago’s offense, a respected locker-room leader and a huge fan favorite.

CEDRIC BENSON – CHICAGO BEARS

Year

G

ATT

YDS

AVE

LG

TD

REC

YDS

AVE

TD

2005

9

67

272

4.1

36

0

1

3

3.0

0

2006

15

157

647

4.1

30

6

8

54

6.8

0

2007

11

196

674

3.4

43

4

17

123

7.2

0

TOTALS

35

420

1,593

3.8

10

26

180

6.9

0

At one point, Benson told the media that he did not trust most of his teammates. There were also rumors that a handful of the Bears’ defensive players, particularly those who were loyal to Jones, would purposely try to injure Benson during drills and practices, which the Bears have denied emphatically to this day. Other rumors had surfaced that Chicago’s offensive linemen were blocking harder for Jones than for Benson, which the team also has denied. On the field, Benson did not know the offense well enough to start, so the Bears stuck with Jones as their lead back (2005). Benson received occasional carries during the season, but he suffered a sprained MCL, missing most of the second half of the season.

There had been speculation prior to the 2006 regular season that Chicago was planning to trade Jones and give the starting job to Benson. However, any plans the Bears may have had to ship Jones out of town were shelved after Benson suffered a training camp shoulder injury, leaving his health in doubt for almost the entire preseason. Although Benson fully recovered in time for the regular season, Chicago head coach Lovie Smith decided to start Jones. Meanwhile, there were whispers that Benson, who had now suffered notable injuries in consecutive seasons, was a soft player and did not work hard at his conditioning.

Benson’s penchant for speaking his mind continued to get him in trouble. Here are two examples: Following an early-season (2006) Bears victory over the Minnesota Vikings, Benson complained bitterly through the media about not receiving any carries during the game. Later in the season, Benson complained again about his lack of touches, challenging Smith by saying, “The NFL is not like high school or college. The best players don’t always get on the field.” Determined to maintain order, the Bears dealt with Benson’s bickering behind closed doors. Benson did receive more touches during the second half of the season, and he was a solid contributor during Chicago’s playoff run. However, the injury bug bit Benson again during Super Bowl XLI. He suffered a knee injury after carrying just two times for minus one yard early in the first half and missed the rest of the game. The whispers about his durability and alleged conditioning issues were getting louder.

The Bears traded Jones prior to the 2007 season, finally giving Benson what he wanted: the No. 1 tailback job with nobody to challenge him. However, Benson struggled mightily as Chicago’s featured back, compiling just one 100-yard rushing game and failing to rush for more than 89 yards in 10 other contests. Averaging just 3.4 yards per carry, Benson’s production went up and down before he suffered a season-ending ankle injury in late November. With Benson leading the way, Chicago’s rushing attack finished last in the league in yardage. The whispers about Benson’s durability and alleged sub-par conditioning had become shouts.

After Benson tanked in his first season as Chicago’s No. 1 runner, general manager Jerry Angelo had quickly decided it was time for a change. When Angelo announced he was interested in acquiring another running back in the upcoming 2008 NFL Draft to jumpstart the Bears’ rushing attack, Benson said, “You all know the competition that goes on around here. It doesn’t matter to me. Maybe somebody else can get some criticism.” Chicago used a second-round selection to choose Matt Forte of Tulane.

Whatever chance Benson had of remaining with the Bears went down the drain right after the Draft. In early May, Benson was charged with boating while intoxicated and resisting arrest during a random check of his boat on Lake Travis in Austin, Texas. Just five weeks later, Benson was arrested again, this time for allegedly driving a car while intoxicated in Austin. Although a grand jury had refused to indict Benson on charges in connection with either arrest — lack of evidence — the Bears, apparently fed up Benson, released him during the afternoon of June 9. According to media reports, Chicago’s decision to give Benson his walking papers was a genuine wake-up call for him, and Benson was “shook up” when several teams passed on him in Free Agency.

In late September 2008, the Bengals, who were struggling with running back injuries (DeDe Dorsey was placed on Injured Reserve), took a flier on the former Bear, inking him to a one-year, $520,000 deal to backup Chris Perry. This situation with Cincinnati was perfect for Benson. He received a fresh start with a new team in a new city, and the expectations for him on the field were low. Benson impressed the Bengals with his work ethic, determination, attitude and energy, working his way into the starting lineup at midseason. Benson posted his best game of the season against the Cleveland Browns, racking up 171 all-purpose yards, including 111 rushing yards on 12 carries.

CEDRIC BENSON – CINCINNATI BENGALS

Year

G

ATT

YDS

AVE

LG

TD

REC

YDS

AVE

TD

2008

12

214

747

3.5

46

2

20

185

9.3

0

2009*

6

127

531

4.2

28

4

10

66

6.6

0

* Through Week 6

Following a brief flirtation with the Houston Texans, Benson re-signed with the Bengals, agreeing to a two-year, $7 million deal in March 2009. Cincinnati, it turns out, has been good for Benson. According to media reports, a humbled Benson has admitted that he made some poor decisions in Chicago, and his hard work and positive attitude have earned Benson the respect from his Cincinnati coaches and teammates that he never felt he had with the Bears. Durability is probably the only thing that would keep Benson from finishing 2008 among the league leaders in rushing.

In fairness to Benson and at the risk of being repetitive, the negative things that happened to Benson in Chicago were not entirely his fault. It’s difficult in any profession or walk of life to succeed when you know that you are not welcome or accepted by others around you. Benson is one of many former Bears to find success with other teams, which is proof that Chicago seems to lack the ability to develop young players. Benson could have used some help from a mentor — which he did not have — or some personalized attention from a position coach. Bears fans, are you concerned? You should be.

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