Benson believes he's in prime, and Packers can benefit

Former Bears back will get opportunity to build on 3 straight seasons 1,000-yard seasons

GREEN BAY, Wis. — So here is Cedric Benson, staying late at Lambeau Field after most of his teammates have left to review more tape.

There he is showing up on an off day to get some extra work.

That was him standing next to Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers during practice before he was allowed to participate. And that's him sitting next to Rodgers in team meetings.

After the running backs meeting ends, there he goes into the quarterbacks meetings so he can learn more.

On the practice field, that's him bursting through the hole and going hard.

Same Benson that Thomas Jones knew?

Hardly.

He sure looks like different, and it goes way beyond the green and gold jersey.

When Benson was going through some drills with Rodgers the other day, he thought back to the first time they spent a few hours together. Back on April 23, 2005, they shared a couch in the green room in the Jacob K. Javitz Convention Center at the NFL draft in New York City.

The Bears would choose Benson fourth overall that day while Rodgers lasted until the Packers grabbed him 20 picks later.

Seven years down the road, Rodgers almost universally is regarded as the NFL's best player. Benson is a player no team wanted until after training camp began, and a player whose salary is the NFL minimum.

His contract had expired with the Bengals and no team called all offseason. This, despite the fact Benson has rushed for 1,000 yards for the last three seasons in Cincinnati. No Bears running back has done that since Neal Anderson (1988-90).

The Lions and Raiders had expressed some interest, and then the Packers called.

This is where Benson wanted to be.

"I thought it would be good to be a part of a traditional winning organization," he said. "And it would be good to see a few fewer guys in the box, considering how strong they are in the pass game."

The Packers likewise are happy to have Benson.

"It's awesome having him," veteran receiver Donald Driver said. "He brings everything you need in a running back."

After finishing 27th in the league in rushing and not re-signing Ryan Grant, the Packers were desperate for a back. The team's leading rusher last year, James Starks, was off to a slow start, and then he suffered a turf toe injury. Third-round draft choice Alex Green still is not completely back from knee surgery nine months ago.

That leaves Benson the probable opening day starter. And says he never has felt readier.

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