Before Monday, Aaron Rodgers and Cedric Benson hadn’t been in the same room since they shared the Jacob K. Javits Center green room at the 2005 NFL Draft in New York City.
“He kind of left a little bit earlier than I did,” the Green Bay Packers quarterback joked about the team’s newest running back.
Indeed, Benson went No. 4 to the Chicago Bears that day. Rodgers, as everyone remembers (especially him), spent the better part of four hours there, waiting for someone to take him. The Packers finally did, at No. 24.
“I can remember when I was getting picked to go up there (onto the stage), I can remember looking back at him and giving him a nod like, ‘You’re up next,’ or ‘I know it’s coming. Be positive about it,’” Benson recalled after his first day of work with his new team – and new teammate. “But strangely enough, what I remember most is him just sitting there.”
What Rodgers remembers most is what a talented, difference-making running back Benson is capable of being, which is why he was as thrilled as anyone that the Packers signed Benson to a one-year, $825,000 minimum-salary contract Sunday to bolster the team’s depleted running back corps.
“I’ve always kind of watched his career from afar. Being drafted in 2005, I’ve followed the guys I was drafted with and the guys in the green room. It’s fun to get Cedric in here,” Rodgers said. “I think he can really add some experience. He’s a very talented guy. He’s coming off three really good seasons.
“It’s good for our team to have guys who have had success other places come here, add to the team, add some leadership to the team, some experience. I think it’s going to be a good transition for him. He’s in a spot where he can be around some other veteran players and have maybe more of a leadership role than he’s had at other teams. There’s high expectations for him but we have no doubt he can come in and meet those expectations.”
While the 29-year-old Benson didn’t live up to expectations in Chicago, he has indeed been productive, putting together 1,251-, 1,111- and 1,067-yard seasons for the Cincinnati Bengals the past three seasons. Although it’s unclear what role Benson will have with the Packers – starter James Starks (turf toe), No. 3 back Brandon Saine (hamstring), undrafted rookie Du’ane Bennett (knee) and now fullback John Kuhn (ankle) are all sidelined with injuries – Benson knows full well that in the Rodgers-fueled offense, the run won’t be the Packers’ bread-and-butter.
“It’s different because it’s really quarterback-friendly, pass-heavy,” said Benson, who won’t play in Thursday night’s preseason game against the Cleveland Browns at Lambeau Field, meaning he’d debut on Aug. 23 at Cincinnati against his former team. “It’s just kind of dedicated to letting the quarterback run the offense, so there’s a lot of calls and there can be a lot of changes depending on looks that the defense … so it’s just hard and you just want to get used to hearing all those things and actually what they mean and stuff.
“I definitely have a goal to still rush for 1,000 (yards) and things like that – 1,000-plus, and set up some big numbers. I understand it's not a run-first team and the run is not real heavy here, but there's (going to be) times where a back gets the ball 25 times. And I'm sure if things are rolling, the run game is set to a standard that we're hoping to achieve, it could be way more carries than that. (I’m) just staying positive and optimistic about it and I know when I get my opportunities, I'm going to make the best of it."
For his career, Benson has played in 91 games (66 starts) and has rushed for 5,769 yards and 31 touchdowns on 1,529 carries (3.8-yard average).
The 5-foot-11, 227-pound Benson attended practice Monday and, in accordance with NFL rules, was not in pads. Instead, he went through a variety of individual drills, spent extra time with Rodgers and running backs coach Alex Van Pelt and listened in on huddles to try and pick up the new system.
Coach Mike McCarthy, who was among those who watched Benson’s workout in Green Bay on Friday, believes Benson is a good fit for the Packers’ offense because the offense is trending toward more one-back formations, which is Benson’s strength. But the coach also acknowledged Benson’s shortcomings, including his ball security (12 fumbles, including seven lost, the past two seasons) and his pass-blocking, which is not a strength.
“Cedric Benson’s a good fit for us. He’s been a very productive running back,” McCarthy said. “(I’m) very familiar with the statistics, very familiar with the film study. (Ball security) is a football fundamental that we obviously pay a lot of attention to and try to emphasize as much as we can in practice, and he’ll be a part of that.
“Once again, we studied the film. We have an idea of what kind of player we’re bringing in because he’s a veteran, an accomplished player. His pass protection and ball security and the things he’s done in the past, it’s always a transition. Some people believe in certain things are done certain ways. We’ll teach him like we teach the rest of the guys. And I’m confident he’ll be able to pass protect in our system.”
Meanwhile, McCarthy seemed unconcerned with Benson’s off-the-field issues, which has led to four arrests and a one-game suspension to start the 2011 season for a pair of misdemeanor assault arrests. For his part, Benson said he’s a changed man.
“You have to live and you’ve got to learn and you’ve got to grow. If you’re not doing that then you’re not doing yourself any favors in life,” Benson said. “I think we’re always changing, we’re always growing as people and I think life is a life-long lesson … no matter how old you are, no matter how wise you may be. I’m definitely a different person now than I was then.
“Naturally people tend to reflect on the bad things you’ve done as opposed to the good things. I’ve moved on from that, but yet it still seems to follow me.
“You just mature, you know? You make better decisions. And you avoid speed bumps as best you can, you're always thinking ahead on stuff as opposed to just acting on impulse. That's probably the best advice I can say for how I've changed."
Year Team G Att Yds Avg Lng TD
2011 Cincinnati 15 273 1,067 3.9 42 6
2010 Cincinnati 16 321 1,111 3.5 26 7
2009 Cincinnati 13 301 1,251 4.2 42 6
2008 Cincinnati 12 214 747 3.5 46 2
2007 Chicago 11 196 674 3.4 43T 4
2006 Chicago 15 157 647 4.1 30 6
2005 Chicago 9 67 272 4.1 36 0
Year Team G Rec Yds Avg Lng TD
2011 Cincinnati 15 15 82 5.5 11 0
2010 Cincinnati 16 28 178 6.4 24 1
2009 Cincinnati 13 17 111 6.5 19 0
2008 Cincinnati 12 20 185 9.3 79 0
2007 Chicago 11 17 123 7.2 19 0
2006 Chicago 15 8 54 6.8 22 0
2005 Chicago 9 1 3 3.0 3 0
Year Team G FUM Lost
2011 Cincinnati 15 5 2
2010 Cincinnati 16 7 5
2009 Cincinnati 13 1 0
2008 Cincinnati 12 2 1
2007 Chicago 11 3 2
2006 Chicago 15 -- --
2005 Chicago 9 1 1