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Benson hopes to squash doubts and prove Bears made right choice

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. (AP) -There are questions about his durability and doubts that he will ever live up to the hype that accompanied him to the NFL. Cedric Benson welcomes it all.

The hard-charging running back can't wait to show that the Chicago Bears were right to put the ball in his hands when they traded the popular Thomas Jones to the New York Jets in March.

"If I still have got to prove some things, I'm sure I will," Benson said. "Adversity's fun, people who want to bet against you or say you can't do or won't do something. That stuff is awesome because it just makes you feel awesome when you do it."

Benson has shown glimpses of his potential since the Bears took him with the fourth pick in the 2005 draft, but the defending NFC champions are banking on a running back who has seen his share of injuries and controversy since he arrived.

He is brutally honest in interviews, which sometimes rubs teammates the wrong way. And his relationship with Jones was shaky, perhaps because Benson made it clear as soon as he arrived that he wanted to start.

Now, it's his turn.

"Cedric could be the best back in the league because he's playing behind probably the best offensive line in the league," tight end Desmond Clark said. "He has those kind of skills. If he's able to stay healthy, he's going to get the carries that he needs to produce 1,800 yards this year."

Last year, Benson gained 647 yards during the regular season and averaged 4.1 yards per carry. But he convinced the Bears that he could carry the load. So they dealt Jones, who ran for 1,210 yards.

"He has great acceleration to the hole," offensive coordinator Ron Turner said. "He has a real good feel for being patient, setting up the blocks and then hitting it."

And he has a chance to wipe out those doubts. So far, it hasn't been a smooth run for Benson.

A lengthy contract negotiation caused him to miss his first training camp two years ago, and a knee injury suffered against San Francisco knocked him out of six games that season.

Benson was listed as the No. 1 running back when camp opened last year after Jones skipped voluntary offseason workouts, but the anticipated competition between the two never developed.

Jones, who rushed for a career-high 1,335 yards in 2005, pulled a hamstring while running during a physical on July 27, and Benson sprained his shoulder during training camp and missed the preseason. The team also disciplined him for leaving the sideline during a preseason game against San Diego and missing a mandatory meeting afterward.

"Last year at this time I didn't know what was going on or what was going to happen," Benson said. "It's harder during the season. (Last year) and the season before that, each game you didn't know when you were going to come in or how many plays you were going to get."

While Jones took the No. 1 spot, Benson saw limited time during the first 2 1/2 months.

He had fewer than 10 carries in five of the Bears' first nine games. His role increased from there, and Benson averaged just under 62 yards rest of the regular season, including a 109-yard performance against Green Bay in the finale.

He rushed for 45 yards against Seattle in the playoffs and 60 against New Orleans in the NFC title game. In the Super Bowl? He had two carries for minus-1 yard, and left the game with a knee injury.

Still, Turner was quick to point out that Benson stayed healthy at Texas, where he ran for 5,540 yards and finished as the sixth-leading rusher in NCAA history.

"To me, it's not much of a concern," Turner said. "You watch what he did in college, and that was his biggest strength. He carried the ball a lot throughout his entire career and there were no durability issues at all there."

Turner said there won't be any drastic changes on offense because Benson replaced Jones, but there will be some differences in the passing game. And that could have an impact on the running backs.

The Bears believe they have two legitimate No. 1 receivers in Muhsin Muhammad and Bernard Berrian, and Mark Bradley is healthy after missing five games last year with an ankle injury. They drafted tight end Greg Olsen in the first round to complement Clark, who had a career-high 626 yards receiving last year, and they added explosive return specialist Devin Hester to the offense.

A more open passing game should create opportunities for quarterback Rex Grossman. And that could mean more holes on the ground.

"As long as we can get those tools out there and use them in the right spots at the right times and make it all mesh together, it will be pretty awesome," Benson said.

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