On the NFL
7:07 PM CDT, August 28, 2012
GREEN BAY, Wis. — So here is Cedric Benson, staying late at Lambeau Field after most of his teammates have left to review more tape.
There he is showing up on an off day to get some extra work.
That was him standing next to Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers during practice before he was allowed to participate. And that's him sitting next to Rodgers in team meetings.
After the running backs meeting ends, there he goes into the quarterbacks meetings so he can learn more.
On the practice field, that's him bursting through the hole and going hard.
Same Benson that Thomas Jones knew?
He sure looks like different, and it goes way beyond the green and gold jersey.
When Benson was going through some drills with Rodgers the other day, he thought back to the first time they spent a few hours together. Back on April 23, 2005, they shared a couch in the green room in the Jacob K. Javitz Convention Center at the NFL draft in New York City.
The Bears would choose Benson fourth overall that day while Rodgers lasted until the Packers grabbed him 20 picks later.
Seven years down the road, Rodgers almost universally is regarded as the NFL's best player. Benson is a player no team wanted until after training camp began, and a player whose salary is the NFL minimum.
His contract had expired with the Bengals and no team called all offseason. This, despite the fact Benson has rushed for 1,000 yards for the last three seasons in Cincinnati. No Bears running back has done that since Neal Anderson (1988-90).
The Lions and Raiders had expressed some interest, and then the Packers called.
This is where Benson wanted to be.
"I thought it would be good to be a part of a traditional winning organization," he said. "And it would be good to see a few fewer guys in the box, considering how strong they are in the pass game."
The Packers likewise are happy to have Benson.
"It's awesome having him," veteran receiver Donald Driver said. "He brings everything you need in a running back."
After finishing 27th in the league in rushing and not re-signing Ryan Grant, the Packers were desperate for a back. The team's leading rusher last year, James Starks, was off to a slow start, and then he suffered a turf toe injury. Third-round draft choice Alex Green still is not completely back from knee surgery nine months ago.
That leaves Benson the probable opening day starter. And says he never has felt readier.
"It's prime time right now," the 29-year old said of where he is in his career. "I'm strong and fast, stronger than I've been. Plus, I'm more knowledgeable."
Benson said he has taken it upon himself to improve at one aspect of his game each year.
"You become a veteran over time," he said. "I've learned the game. I'm a professional. I'm much more mature than I was back (with the Bears). I was a kid then."
Benson said one of the things that made him mature was the Bears releasing him in June 2009 after two alcohol-related arrests in five weeks. Now, he says, it was all a part of growing up as a player.
Adversity has helped shape Benson, he says.
"Those were my first professional years," he said. "I think back on them a lot. They helped get me where I am today. I think about it when I'm around a bunch of young guys. I find myself sharing information with them and think back what it was like for me."
There are no bitter feelings about his Bears career, or how it ended. He is in touch with no one from the organization.
So while the Bears clearly have been in his rear-view mirror, they also now will be in his bull's-eye twice this year, the first time Sept. 13 when the Bears travel to Lambeau Field for a Thursday night game.
Benson acknowledges he will feel something special when he returns to Soldier Field for the first time Dec. 16. But he said he already let the Bears know what he is capable of when he ran for a career-high 189 yards against them in a 2009 game at Paul Brown Stadium.
"I look at every opponent and every game as an opportunity now," he said. "With the way things are going, I'm not sure how much longer I'll get to play, regardless of whether or not I still can play. So every week is going to be a chance to display what I have."
It is the perspective of a player who has seen a few things.
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