Bears Inside Slant: The Benson Saga

RB Cedric Benson (Nam Y. Huh/AP)

If the Chicago Bears decide they have had enough of Cedric Benson, his alleged drunken boating incident from this past weekend won't be the reason. Should he indeed be released, it will be because he failed to live up to expectations as a high draft pick. Get the Inside Slant from the NFL experts at Scout.com.

Despite a lot of talk to the contrary, the Bears shouldn't even consider cutting Cedric Benson until training camp and, if he's healthy, they shouldn't cut him regardless of the outcome of last Saturday night's arrest for boating while intoxicated and resisting arrest.

The Bears should treat Benson's arrest as what it is – a misdemeanor. Regular people don't usually lose their jobs over a misdemeanor, even if they're coming off a bad year. And in this case, there is considerable difference of opinion as to whether Benson resisted or was the object of overzealous police work. He has denied that he was drunk and that he resisted arrest.

Keep in mind, Benson has not been arrested since he was drafted by the Bears in 2005.

The fact that he's had only one arrest in three years doesn't make him a model citizen. But as general manager Jerry Angelo said last weekend after the Bears drafted two players with arrest records in college, "This isn't an angelic game, as we all know, so we certainly aren't going to get all angels."

And Benson is not a repeat offender in the NFL, although he was arrested for trespassing in college five years ago when he attempted to recover a TV set that had been stolen from him.

As of Friday morning, Angelo, who was said to have been out of town Sunday, had yet to make any comment on the situation.


RB Cedric Benson
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The knee jerks who want Benson released immediately point out that he averaged just 3.4 yards per carry last season, which is admittedly a putrid performance – especially for the fourth-overall pick in the draft.

But no one on the Bears averaged more than 3.4 yards per carry last season. Adrian Peterson had the same average as Benson, Garrett Wolfe managed just 2.7 yards per attempt and Devin Hester netted minus-10 yards on seven attempts behind an offensive line that struggled to create holes big enough for an anorexic midget to slip through.

Second-round pick Matt Forte may well be capable of replacing Benson as the Bears' featured ball-carrier, but Smith and Angelo have always insisted that the team that "gets off the bus running the football" needs two starting-caliber runners.

It's debatable whether Benson qualified last season as "starting caliber," and he's coming off a fractured left ankle that required surgery, screws and a plate to fix. But who didn't believe Benson was a serviceable NFL running back during the final seven regular-season games of the 2006 Super Bowl season, when he averaged 4.9 yards per attempt while splitting carries with Thomas Jones? Jones is the guy who all the revisionist history buffs pine for while ripping Benson. But in 2006, when they both were running behind the same, solid offensive line, they had identical 4.1-yard averages. If Benson had a similar season last year, no one would be calling for his head.

It remains to be seen if Benson is healthy enough to duplicate that 2006 effort. If he is, he can still be a valuable contributor whether he's starting or not. If he can't contribute, he'll be a candidate to be released.

The Bears have already paid Benson $14 million in bonus money, the lion's share of what he'll make on his five-year rookie contract. Cutting him would cost millions of dollars in salary cap money that could go toward a new contract for Hester, or Tommie Harris, or Robbie Gould, or even an extension for Brian Urlacher.

If Benson can't help the Bears win, get rid of him and get someone who can. But let's wait for all the facts, all sides of the story and for the legal system to run its course before crucifying a player just because he hasn't lived up to expectations on the field.

If the Bears canned every player and coach who didn't get the job done last season, they could print their roster on a matchbook cover.

NEWS & NOTES

  • Neither Southern Illinois' Nick Hill nor Colorado State's Caleb Hanie impressed NFL teams enough to get drafted. But both showed the Bears enough to warrant free-agent contracts, and each has an opportunity to make the final roster or at least the practice squad. Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton are the only other quarterbacks on the roster, and the Bears haven't gone into a season in recent memory with less than three quarterbacks.

  • QB Caleb Hanie
    Scott Boehm/Getty Images

    Both rookies struggled with their accuracy in last Friday's first day of the weekend rookie minicamp but both were more accurate Saturday, when the Bears hopefuls were able to practice outside despite intermittent light rain.

    "I thought the quarterbacks threw the ball better," head coach Lovie Smith said. "Both have a fairly good arm, and both have played at a pretty high level. Both have good leadership ability and all that, and this is a great opportunity for them. We have two quarterbacks on our roster right now, so there's a good chance one of them will be our third quarterback. There's an opportunity, and they seem like they're going to make the most of it."

    Hanie, a two-year starter who led the Mountain West Conference with a 144.6 passer rating last season by completing 64.2 percent of his passes for 2,455 yards with 18 touchdowns and 15 interceptions, has demonstrated a stronger arm than Hill, who also started two years, during which he threw 43 TD passes and just 11 interceptions.

  • Fourth-round safety Craig Steltz picked off six passes last season and 11 in his college career. And at 6-1 and 210 pounds, the LSU All-American also has enough size and strength to provide physical run support and an intimidating presence in the secondary like some of his favorite NFL safeties.
  • "Guys like John Lynch and Roy Williams, guys who come up and hit," Steltz said when asked who in the league he admires at his position. "And Mike Brown. That's three tremendous safeties that get to the ball and get to the ball in a bad mood. Good things happen when you get around the ball, whether it's an interception or it's a fumble recovery."

    Steltz, who also forced three fumbles last season, is expected to be a leading contender for playing time at a position where the Bears have lots of depth but also plenty of questions because of Brown's injury history and other players' lack of experience.

  • Benson was back at Halas Hall on Tuesday for the Bears' off-season workout program, as he has been for each of the voluntary sessions that began on April 7.
  • That was good news for Benson after a weekend of bad publicity that came with a late Saturday night arrest for boating while intoxicated and resisting arrests, Class B misdemeanors which each carry a maximum penalty of six months in jail and/or a $2,000 fine. Benson is disputing both charges, claiming that he was pepper-sprayed and dragged ashore without cause.

    Benson spoke with Smith and Angelo on Tuesday, but the Bears did not comment on those discussions or release any statements on their continuing investigation of the weekend incident – which occurred on Lake Travis near Austin, Texas.

    Benson, the fourth-overall pick in the 2005 draft, has battled injuries and ineffectiveness throughout his NFL career, averaging a career-worst 3.4 yards per carry last season. He also suffered a fractured left ankle that ended his season five games early and which he is still rehabbing. Two weekends ago, the Bears used a second-round pick to draft Forte, who could be the heir apparent to Benson.

    QUOTE TO NOTE
    "I felt like our running game obviously was one of the weak spots on our football team." – Bears general manager Jerry Angelo on the 2007 team.

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