New teammates Cedric Benson and Aaron Rodgers recall Rodgersâ€™ free-fall in the 2005 draft.
By PAUL IMIGFS Wisconsin
GREEN BAY, Wis. — Aaron Rodgers has not forgotten what it was like sitting in the green room during the 2005 NFL Draft, waiting around as 23 other players were picked before the Green Bay Packers finally called his name. Cedric Benson, recently signed by the Packers, was one of the players Rodgers had to watch take the stage, shake the commissioner's hand and put on the hat of his new team.
Benson wasn't on the draft board for long as the Chicago Bears selected the University of Texas running back with the fourth overall pick. Not until 20 spots later was it Rodgers' turn to take a deep breath and realize his NFL dreams.
Seven years later, Rodgers and Benson are teammates, their football paths crossing once again. Rodgers is known for using his free-fall in the 2005 draft as motivation for making him one of the league's top quarterbacks.
"I've always kind of watched his career from afar," Rodgers said of Benson, who will get his first action as a Packer on Thursday night in a preseason game against his last team, the Cincinnati Bengals. "Being drafted in 2005, I've followed the guys I was drafted with and the guys in the green room. It's fun to see a lot of us still playing and playing at a high level.
"It's fun to get Cedric in here. He's a very talented guy."
Benson recalled what it was like immediately after getting drafted and going back to the area that he and his family and friends were seated at near Rodgers that day.
"I was surprised that he (Rodgers) hadn't gone earlier," Benson said. "I can remember when I was getting picked to go up there. I can remember looking back at him and giving him a nod like, ‘You're up next,' or ‘I know it's coming. Be positive about it.'
"But strangely enough, what I remember most is him just sitting there."
With a big smile, Rodgers quipped: "He was lucky to get out of the green room as fast as he did."
As is the case every year with most players invited to the green room, Rodgers and Benson got to know each other fairly well leading up to the draft.
"We had a lot of fun in those couple days," Rodgers said. "I knew he was a big-time player, and I enjoyed spending a little bit of time with him."
From what Benson has seen of Rodgers so far in his 10 days with the Packers, the only thing different about the NFL's Most Valuable Player now is the trophy that came with that honor and the Super Bowl ring that's also part of his collection of recently won hardware.
"What I recall of Aaron is just that he was a good, humble guy," Benson told FOXSportsWisconsin.com. "He's a good dude. Same guy he is now."
Though Rodgers has had the more successful career of the two, it took him three full seasons before he started his first game. Brett Favre was still in Green Bay at the time, and Rodgers had no choice but to wait until the Packers front office decided to move in a new direction.
Benson, meanwhile, was squandering his opportunity in Chicago. Beginning his time with the Bears in a five-week contract holdout, Benson ran for only 272 yards as a rookie and never rushed for more than 674 yards in his disappointing three years that ended with his release.
Rodgers has spent his entire career playing with a grudge, constantly wanting to prove to the 23 teams that passed on him in the draft that they made a huge mistake. Considering Benson could not get an offseason contract offer from the Bengals, the team that he had given three consecutive seasons of 1,000-plus rushing yards, Rodgers and his new running back both have an added edge now.
"He's been through a lot," Benson said of Rodgers. "He's had a tough road, always having to prove himself. It's pretty cool, (because) you want a guy like that. Those guys are the best guys because they've been through hardship. They know what it's like."
To show just how much this opportunity means to Benson, he's been sitting next to Rodgers in all of the Packers quarterback meetings.
"I love how much it means to him, and I love the chip he's got on his shoulder," Rodgers said of Benson. "It's great. That's what I think you appreciate. I don't know if this is a second chance for him and he's viewing it like that and he wants to do some of the things that he hasn't done in the past, or maybe this is normal for him. But we love it.
"Because this offense, a lot of times, turns into best-play scenarios at the line of scrimmage with me making some checks. Him and I being on the same page is going to be important for us."
Benson was signed by Green Bay more than two weeks into training camp, a move necessitated by the list of injuries suffered by Packers running backs, including projected starter James Starks. Not only is Starks out with turf toe, but Brandon Saine is sidelined by an injured hamstring. Plus, second-year running back Alex Green is still on a limited snap count as he recovers from a torn ACL that occurred midway through last season.
So it's very likely Benson will be the Week 1 starter when the San Francisco 49ers' No. 1 run-stopping defense travels to Lambeau Field to open the regular season.
"There's high expectations for him," Rodgers said of Benson. "But we have no doubt he can come in and meet those expectations."
That Packers-49ers game will also be a battle between Rodgers and the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft, quarterback Alex Smith. Though 2011 was a good season for Smith, he has not been nearly as good as Rodgers over the past seven years since that draft. Even back then, Benson couldn't help but try to figure out what it was that Smith did to earn the top pick over Rodgers.
"It's curious,” Benson said. “I wonder what made him any less than Alex Smith, or Alex Smith any better than him. You're always curious to what those scouts like about players."