Packers' Benson says he has 'plenty' left in the tank
GREEN BAY Cedric Benson knows there's an expiration date stamped on any NFL player and that it seems to come up sooner for running backs than anyone else.
Benson insists he has a lot left to give the Green Bay Packers despite carrying the ball more than 1,500 times over the past seven NFL seasons.
"I think I've got plenty," Benson said Monday. "I still feel good. I'm still loose, I diet well and I train well and do the best I can to contribute to the longevity of my career as best I know how. And I think I've got plenty of years left. I feel great."
The Packers (No. 1 in the AP Pro32) signed the free-agent running back on Sunday, hoping to add depth and productivity at a position that is being stretched thin by injuries just a few weeks into training camp.
Already missing James Starks because of a turf toe injury—and not wanting to overtax second-year player Alex Green in his return from a season-ending knee injury—the Packers' problems were compounded when they lost John Kuhn to an ankle sprain during Monday's practice.
Coach Mike McCarthy had to cut practice short by 20 minutes because the team didn't have enough running backs to get through all their drills.
Benson isn't likely to play in Thursday's preseason game against Cleveland, potentially leaving the Packers shorthanded.
"Right now, we have three running backs," McCarthy said. "We'll see where John is the next couple days. I'd like to have four of them going into the game."
Benson, the No. 4 overall pick by the Chicago Bears in the 2005 draft, struggled with injuries, inconsistency and off-the-field trouble with the Bears. But he revived his career over four seasons in Cincinnati, including three straight years over the 1,000-yard rushing mark.
Benson was surprised he didn't draw more immediate interest in free agency, but said he was happy to end up in Green Bay.
"Year to year in this business, guys always have something to prove, you know?," Benson said. "There's a tendency of, 'What have you shown me lately? What have you done for me lately?' You're always out to leave your stamp on the game every season."
By signing Benson, the Packers apparently passed on the chance to re-sign veteran Ryan Grant, who is without a job after five solid seasons with the Packers.
"Ryan Grant has been a very good player for us in the past," McCarthy said. "There's a lot of decisions that go into every player acquisition on our team, a number of different factors. This isn't just something that was thought of and done in the short term."
One potential red flag for the Packers: Benson has 19 career fumbles, losing 11 of them.
"Once again, that's all part of the evaluation," McCarthy said. "(We're) very familiar with the statistics, very familiar with the film study. It's 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."
As is the case with any running back in the Packers' system, Benson will have to show he can be trusted in pass protection.
"We have an idea of what kind of player we're bringing in because he's a veteran, an accomplished player," McCarthy said. "His pass protection and ball-carries 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."
Aaron Rodgers—who joked about Benson being drafted well ahead of him in 2005—was optimistic that Benson will be a significant addition.
"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," Rodgers said. "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."
Benson missed a game with the Bengals last season for violating the NFL's conduct policy. He was punished after settling two misdemeanor assault cases in Texas and serving a five-day jail sentence. While Benson acknowledged his past troubles off the field, he said he has matured.
"You're going to be learning no matter how old you are, no matter how wise you may be," Benson said. "I'm definitely a different person now than I was then. I think with that stuff still lingering around, naturally people tend to reflect on the bad things you've done as opposed to the good things."