Benson still in RB picture

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Often-injured Bears running back Cedric Benson will have to battle to reclaim his starting job this season.

    Often-injured Bears running back Cedric Benson will have to battle to reclaim his starting job this season. Associated Press

 
 
Published2/23/2008 12:27 AM

INDIANAPOLIS -- Despite a poor 3.4-yard average per carry last season, Cedric Benson hasn't played himself out of a job yet.

But he's going to have to compete to reclaim his job as the Bears' featured runner that he relinquished when he suffered a fractured ankle in Game 11 last season.

 

"He's got to compete," said general manager Jerry Angelo, who chose Benson with the fourth overall pick in 2005. "He's got to go out there and win the job. We're going to try to create competition at the position. We're going to certainly look at the running back position."

Benson struggled much of last season. Then he put together back-to-back games in which he averaged 7.0 yards per carry, only to suffer the season-ending injury -- the fourth of his three-year career.

"When you started to see a little light at the end of the tunnel, he got hurt," Angelo said. "Injuries are a real problem now with Cedric. He's been hurt four times, and you have to be mindful of that. Durability is a big deal when you're talking about running backs."

Versatile backup Adrian Peterson didn't provide an upgrade over Benson, and rookie Garrett Wolfe is not considered an every-down back, so the Bears are expected to draft a running back this year and/or sign one in free agency.

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"We'll look at anywhere for the competition," Angelo said. "I'm not ruling out that we wouldn't do something in the marketplace and/or in the draft, whatever presents itself. We want to be a running football team. That's our goal. Our philosophy hasn't changed, and we have to have good backs to do that, so I'll leave it at that."

Staying local: Illinois' record-setting running back Rashard Mendenhall is projected to go somewhere between the middle and the end of the first round.

The Bears, at No. 14, are on record as saying they need to get better at running back, so that would seem to be a good fit.

"I definitely think so," said Mendenhall, who starred at Niles West High School. "I'm a Chicago fan. I've lived in Chicago my whole life. I love the city, so that definitely would be cool."

The prospect of competing with incumbent Cedric Benson for the starting job doesn't bother Mendenhall, who rushed for 1,681 yards last season and averaged 6.4 yards per carry.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"Anywhere you go there's going to be a running back," he said. "There are going to be guys in front of you. That's what your goals and intentions are coming into it -- whatever team you are on you want to compete. You have to go for that starting spot."

The name game: Other than the name, LSU's white running back Jacob Hester doesn't have a lot in common with the Bears' Devin Hester, but he's been asked about him often enough to have a quick response.

"He's my cousin," said Hester, who rushed for 1,103 yards last season but is only a marginal prospect because of a lack of speed. "People always mess with me and say, 'Man, your cousin did good today.' I actually got a chance to meet him at the NFL Players party during the Super Bowl week. I told him that joke, and he thought it was pretty funny."

The two originally met at the conclusion of the 2005 season, in the Peach Bowl, when LSU whaled on the Hurricanes 40-3. Devin Hester rushed seven times for 24 yards and caught 2 passes for 40 yards, while Jacob Hester picked up 70 yards on 13 carries.

"We were going to switch jerseys at the end of the game," Jacob Hester said, "but then there was a big brawl at the end of the game, so that kind of went down the tubes."

At 5-10½ and 230 pounds, Hester could have value as a fullback/one-back/special-teams player, even if he doesn't project as a classic featured running back. He said he'd be happy to end up with the Bears, even if it meant having a "J" on his jersey in front of "Hester."

"That would be awesome," he said. "I love the cold weather, and that's something I'd love to play in, especially on a team with that much tradition."

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