Report: Benson close to signing with Packers

One day after the Green Bay Packers’ running game fell flat in the team’s preseason opener, help might be on the way.

ESPN’s Chris Mortensen is citing sources who say free agent Cedric Benson, a 1,000-yard rusher in each of the past three seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals, is close to signing with the Packers. Both ESPN and Associated Press are reporting that Benson has already visited the Packers.

Benson, 29, was the fourth overall pick in the 2005 NFL draft by the Chicago Bears but never rushed for more than 700 yards with Chicago. The Bears released him after the 2008 season following a series of off-field incidents.

Benson finally hit his stride in his second season in Cincinnati in 2009 when he set career highs in rushing yards (1,251) and yards per carry (4.2).

All offseason, the Packers have been professing faith in an inexperienced group of running backs led by James Starks, who ran for 578 yards last season while sharing carries with two-time 1,200-yard rusher Ryan Grant. The Packers elected to not bring back Grant, 29, this offseason, and because he remains a free agent there had been some speculation the team might still re-sign him if its running game struggled.

General manager Ted Thompson — who is loathe to take on free agents with baggage instead of relying on players his coaching staff has developed — and coach Mike McCarthy have preached patience with this year’s running backs. The group is devoid of star talent and inludes Starks, undrafted second-year player Brandon Saine, undrafted rookie Marc Tyler and 2011 third-round pick Alex Green, who is returning from an ACL injury. But Starks has struggled so far in training camp and opened Thursday night’s loss to the San Diego Chargers with a dropped pass and a fumble on the team’s first drive. He ran five times for 16 yards, and Tyler led the team with 13 carries for just 32 yards.

Benson isn’t the accomplished pass catcher the Packers prefer to start at running back — he’s never had more than 28 receptions in a season — but he likely immediately would be the team’s best runner and could give one of the league’s top offenses balance it hasn’t had since Grant was in his prime.