Cedric Benson takes football seriously, but as far as he's concerned, things need to be kept in perspective.
“I had a reporter ask me yesterday if my entire focus was on the upcoming game, and I gave him a quick answer of 'No,'” Benson said at Halas Hall on Thursday. “He looked quite surprised. What I said then by no means indicates that I'm taking this game lightly. In fact, the opposite is true. I just meant that there are many important things in my life, and football is just one of them.”
A somewhat surprising statement from a young player whose commitment to the sport has, on occasion, been questioned. But although Benson tends to give the unexpected answer, his production this year would seem to indicate that success in football might be more important to the former Longhorn than he will admit.
This season alone, Benson and fellow tailback Thomas Jones each notched six rushing TDs and became the first Bears backs to reach that mark in the same season since Neal Anderson and Brad Muster in 1991. Benson may claim not to be impressed with the achievement, but his smile when asked about it would suggest otherwise.
“Thomas and I have worked hard to contribute this year,” he said. “I got particular enjoyment out of the score against the Saints last Sunday. That was an important game for us to say the least, and it was necessary to get the points in order to keep the momentum going for Chicago.”
Rotating Benson and Jones in the lineup has the advantage of helping both players remain fresh through the fourth quarter while giving opposing defenses a variety of looks.
“We have slightly different styles,” Benson said. “I tend to be more of a power-through-the-middle type of runner. Thomas usually takes more varied routes. I think we complement each other and keep the defense a little off-balance.”
It's an interesting relationship between the two. Although neither will admit to a rivalry for playing time, it seems that the more yards Jones produces, the harder Benson tries to surpass him - a supposition that Benson denies.
“We are independent people," he said. “Thomas does his thing, and I do mine. What happens on the field is the result of the offensive game plan. I respect the way he plays, and I think he would say the same about me. The fact is that we are getting significant numbers of points on the board when they are needed, which is all to the good.”
During the regular season, Jones was sixth in the NFC in rushing yards with 1,210 yards on 296 attempts and an average of 4.1 yards per carry. Benson ranked 19th with 157 rushes for 647 yards - also a 4.1 yards-per-carry average.
“I'm moving up in the overall NFL stats as I get more playing time,” he said. “A lot of this has to do with effort and hard work. It's the desire to achieve. I'm naturally competitive. Also, I've always been good at being mentally and physically prepared.”
When asked about what he expects to see from the Colts defense, Benson had an immediate reply.
“Something familiar," he said. "I feel that what they bring is quite similar to the system here. I've been practicing against our defense for quite a while now, so I expect to feel pretty comfortable out there. And of course this week and next week we'll be studying film on the Colts and basing our attack on what comes out of that.”
And what does Benson think of the Colts offense?
“They're fast, and they can come right back at you,” Benson said. "Just look at what happened against New England last weekend. But I know our guys, and I think they are ready to take care of [Indianapolis quarterback Peyton] Manning."
Benson has expended significant effort to keep his conditioning at a high level, a fact he is certain will pay dividends in Miami next week.
“That's a huge thing for all of the Bears," he said. "The need and the desire to be in top shape. We all watch our diets and spend hours in the weight room. The success that you have seen this year is a visible result of that. I think that with the temperature change between Chicago and Miami, it will be extremely important to be fit. I was injured early in camp, and I had to work through that. Now I am definitely at 100%.”
With just two days to go before the Bears head for Miami, is Benson the least bit nervous?
Well, perhaps just a little.
“I think that every player heading to the Super Bowl feels that to some extent," he admitted. "How can you not? It's the goal of every kid playing football. More than that, it's a huge sporting event, a game we've all grown up watching. But as I said earlier, my life is in balance. I feel my priorities are in order. Yes, football is important. This game is important, but it is not only football that defines me. My family, my friends, my faith - those are part of me, as well.”
Beth Gorr is the author of Bear Memories: The Chicago-Green Bay Rivalry.