GREEN BAY, Wis. — Cedric Benson knows that his new team, the Green Bay Packers, is a pass-first offense. But Benson, a 29-year-old running back who was drafted fourth overall in 2005, doesn’t believe that signing with the Packers means it’s necessarily the end of his three-consecutive-year streak of rushing for at least 1,000 yards.
“I definitely have a goal to still rush for 1,000, 1,000-plus, and set up some big numbers,” Benson said after his first practice in Green Bay on Monday afternoon. “I understand it’s not a run-first team and the run is not real heavy here, but there’s times where a back gets the ball 25 times (in one game).
“I’m sure if things are rolling (and) the run game is set to the standard that we’re hoping to achieve, it could be way more carries than that. I’m just staying positive and optimistic about it, and I know when I get my opportunities, I’m going to make the best of it.”
With an accomplished runner like Benson, the Packers could possibly emphasize a ground attack more, but in recent seasons, that’s not been the case. Last year, Green Bay was led in rushing by James Starks with 578 yards on 133 carries while splitting time with Ryan Grant, finishing 27th as a team in the NFL. Meanwhile, Benson was handed the ball 273 times last season for a total of 1,067 yards. That was actually Benson’s lowest production since 2008, with 1,251 rushing yards in 2009 and 1,111 yards in 2010.
Benson is nearing that age at which the skills of most running backs begin to decline, but he doesn’t see himself performing like a worn-down player any time soon.
“I think I’ve got plenty (left),” Benson said. “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.”
Though Benson remained unsigned through the first few weeks of training camp, the Packers weren’t the only team to make him a contract offer.
After the large group of reporters surrounding Benson had left, he told FOXSportsWisconsin.com that both the Detroit Lions and Oakland Raiders had attempted to sign him prior to the Packers calling.
“Both teams that needed backs,” Benson added.
But those situations just weren’t right for him.
“They talk about a Super Bowl around here, not about winning their first playoff game,” Benson said earlier in the interview.
One reason that Green Bay signed Benson was because of the overall lack of health at the team’s running back spot. Starks suffered a turf toe injury in the Packers’ preseason opener and has missed every practice since. Backup Brandon Saine continues to be out with an injured hamstring, and Alex Green is still on a limited snap count as he battles back from a torn ACL that happened midway through last season.
Benson can’t put on a helmet and pads yet because of the NFL’s new collective bargaining agreement and won’t play in Green Bay’s preseason home opener Thursday. But once he is allowed to fully participate, he said it’s his goal to be the Packers’ No. 1 running back.
“You’ve got to set your goals high, and that’s part of it, that’s one of them,” Benson said.
At the moment, however, coach Mike McCarthy hasn’t addressed Benson’s role with him.
“I think the most important thing is having a grasp on the playbook so you can play full speed,” Benson said. “After you play the game for so long, you get a feel for it. All you really want to do is get your legs under you, get used to wearing pads and having the playbook down like the back of your hand.”
If Benson can maintain the form that he’s shown over the past three years while with the Cincinnati Bengals, this move could prove very helpful to quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Coming off an MVP season that included 45 touchdowns, six interceptions and an NFL record for single-season QB rating, Rodgers can’t be expected to put up such incredible numbers on an annual basis.
But having a running threat in the backfield like Benson could give opposing defenses another option to guard against and take some pressure off Rodgers, who was sacked 36 times — sixth-most in the NFL — last season.
“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 of Benson. “I think it’s going to be a good transition for him.
“There’s high expectations for him, but we have no doubt he can come in and meet those expectations. He’s a very talented guy. He’s coming off three really good seasons.”
The biggest issue for Benson has been fumbles, of which he’s had 12 in the past two seasons. And if there is one thing McCarthy stresses more than anything on offense, it’s ball security.
But the opportunity for McCarthy and the Packers to add a player with Benson’s talent was just too much to pass up, especially on a contract that is reportedly only for one year with no signing bonus and worth the veteran’s minimum.
“Cedric Benson’s a good fit for us,” McCarthy said. “He’s been a very productive running back. He’s played in a one-back system the last few years, and it’s clearly evident that we’ve evolved more to a one-back system. I think he’s a good fit for our football team.