The Green Bay Packers were prepared to begin the 2012 season with James Starks as their starting running back, but injuries have forced the third-year player to sit out the rest of the preseason. Now the door has opened wide for newly acquired back Cedric Benson to take the reins and elevate the Packers running game.
Head coach Mike McCarthy has stated Starks is still a couple of weeks away as he attempts to recover from his toe injury. Second-year player Alex Green will compete for the starting job but the veteran Benson is the heavy favorite to be the opening day starter.
Benson has rushed for over 1,000 yards in each of his last three seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals. Green Bay, on the other hand, has not had a running back rush for over 1,000 yards since Ryan Grant did so in 2009, when he ran for 1,253 yards.
The Packers desperately need a running game to go along with their unstoppable air attack. The last thing Green Bay needs is the top defenses in the NFL teeing off on MVP Aaron Rodgers because everyone and their grandma knows the Packers are going to pass. The offensive line will have to open up holes to allow Benson to do his thing to keep defenses honest. Throw in a 1,000-yard rusher to the mix and there will not be a single defense on the planet that will be able to prevent Green Bay’s offense from doing whatever they want game in and game out all the way to the Super Bowl.
Benson took another step in getting ready for the season by practicing in full pads on Sunday for the first time since signing with the team. He looked like a guy who was clearly getting ready in the off-season for a team to call his name opposed to just sitting on the couch watching ESPN every day.
“I had a lot of fun running around, getting some live reads, guys coming off the ball, defensive line coming off the ball,” Benson said. “I was able to make some moves in the secondary. It felt good to run around and it felt good to get into the rhythm of tackle football.”
Green is by far the faster player of the two but Benson is able to move his way through the line and gain positive yardage, something the Packers have lacked on a consistent basis in recent years. Even though Benson looks like he is in shape, he still admitted it would take a little time running with pads on again.
“I felt like I was in the best shape I could have been coming in,” Benson said. “But it’s always a different animal when you have those shoulder pads on, you have them strapped tight and you’re trying to breathe and stuff. I got a little winded at times but was able to recover fast.”
The Packers biggest worry is not Benson being able to keep pace with everyone around him, but how they are going to give him the opportunity to successfully run the ball. Even the best running backs in the world will not be able to gain yards if the offensive line cannot run block. Green Bay’s front five are outstanding when it comes to pass protection but it certainly is not a secret they are not able to create consistent holes for the backs to run through, with the exception of the 2010 postseason.
On the other hand, Benson could make the offensive line better with his great running ability. It should be interesting to see how well he does in his first game with the Packers on Thursday night when Green Bay will take on his former team in Cincinnati. Hopefully, Packers fans will get a glimpse of good things to come this season, something they did not get in the first two preseason games.