The numbers – 29 years old with nearly 900 carries over the last three seasons – are red flags for any running back, and they’re the main reason Cedric Benson remained unemployed until the third week of training camp.
But with the Packers’ running back stable depleting seemingly by the day, Benson arrived on the practice field in Green Bay on Monday with a chance to prove those numbers don’t automatically signal an impending decline.
“I think I’ve got plenty,” Benson said when asked how much remains in his well-used legs. “I still feel good. I’m still loose. I think I’ve got plenty of years left.”
For now, the Packers are only concerned about this year, because two of their top three running backs coming into camp – James Starks (turf toe) and Brandon Saine (hamstring) – are currently out with injuries, and the other (Alex Green) remains on a snap count as he comes back from reconstructive knee surgery. Undrafted rookie Du’ane Bennett (knee) and now John Kuhn (ankle) are also down after Kuhn left Monday’s practice.
Opportunity knocks for Benson to make any number of contributions to the Packers’ high-powered offense in 2012, from complementary role player all the way up to featured back, depending on how quickly he gets acclimated and how long others’ injuries linger.
That’s one reason he chose to sign with the Packers, who chose him over another 29-year-old back, former Green Bay mainstay Ryan Grant. There’s obvious potential with this opportunity.
“You’re always out to leave your stamp on the game every season,” he said.
Another reason is the potential of the team, which is highly regarded as a contender after winning a Super Bowl and going 15-1 over the last two years.
“They talk about Super Bowls around here, not about winning their first playoff game,” Benson said.
That was a not-so-veiled shot at his former employer, the Bengals, who lost in the opening round of the playoffs in two of his three 1,000-yard seasons in Cincinnati (2009, 2011) and chose not to re-sign him. The Bengals haven’t won a postseason game since 1990.
It’s clear Benson has moved on, just as he moved on from his two alcohol-related arrests during his time in Chicago that led to his release from the Bears, who drafted him fourth overall in 2005.
“I’m definitely a different person now than I was then,” he said. “You just mature and you make better decisions.”
Regardless of the backstory, his new teammates sounded welcoming. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers said he has followed Benson’s career as a fellow 2005 draftee, joking that Benson left the “green room” at Radio City Music Hall “a little bit earlier than I did,” a reference to Rodgers’ excruciating, well-publicized wait that lasted until the 24th pick.
“There are high expectations for him, but we have no doubt he can come in and meet those expectations,” Rodgers said.
That starts with learning the playbook, which Benson will have some time to do. Benson wore only shells in practice on Monday and will do so again on Tuesday, per the collectively bargained rules. He will not play in Thursday’s game, so his first full-contact work will come in Sunday’s practice.
If Benson had it his way, he’d rather not wait. He recalled that when the Bengals signed him back in 2008, he joined the team midweek and played in that weekend’s game. It doesn’t work that way anymore, but his plan is to learn the offense as quickly as possible so he can practice and play at full speed.
To Benson, that’s the only way to keep those aforementioned numbers out of the picture. Other numbers he’d like to shake are his 12 fumbles, seven of them lost, over the last two seasons, and Head Coach Mike McCarthy noted Benson will quickly see the emphasis placed on a fundamental such as ball-security in practice.
“He’ll be a part of that,” McCarthy said. “I’m excited that he’s here.”
So is a team thin at running back. Those numbers can’t be, and weren’t, ignored.
“He’s got to come in and learn a whole new scheme now, and that’s going to take a little while, but I think he’s been around long enough that he’s going to catch on to that and get it going pretty quick,” right tackle Bryan Bulaga said. “I think everyone’s excited to see what he can do.” Related link