No doubt

Jason Cole
Yahoo! Sports

MIAMI – Somewhere between being one of the best players going into the 2005 NFL draft and a point earlier this season, Chicago Bears running back Cedric Benson started to believe the doubters.

All the people who said he wasn't worth taking with the No. 4 overall pick. All the people who said he was too soft after his holdout and subsequent injury that cost him most of his rookie season. All the people who said he was too much of a flake, like his good friend and fellow former Texas back Ricky Williams.

"I should never have thought those things, but I did," Benson said. "You hear all the people who say, 'he can't play.' The people who try to bring you down, tell you you're not good enough. The fans test you like that, the coaches test you.

"Even the players, your teammates, test you like that. They want to see if you have the stuff, the confidence to do it."

Benson still isn't a starter for the Bears, though that could come next season. What he's hoping is that he can play a vital role as Chicago takes on the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday in Super Bowl XLI at Dolphin Stadium. Benson, the battering-ram part of Chicago's combination of he and starter Thomas Jones, certainly has the potential for that role.

If the Bears can get a lead in the second half over the favorite Colts, Benson will likely get his chances to pound away at Indianapolis' undersized defense. This is exactly what the Bears have hoped since they took him. Benson has just been a little slow to arrive.

This season, Benson rushed for 647 yards on 157 carries and scored six touchdowns. The highlight of the season was the 109 yards on 13 carries he had against Green Bay in the season finale. It was the first time Benson had topped the century mark in the NFL.

However, that wasn't the definitive moment. Benson proved to himself he could play with a short run in an early-season game. The moment was some long run. It was mundane.

"Nothing big, but it was when I said to myself: 'I can play this game. I could be good at this,'" Benson said. "I hit the hole, broke a couple of arm tackles and ran over the first tackler. … It felt good."

It has looked good as well. Benson has progressively gained more carries as the season has gone by, an obvious sign of the trust that Benson has developed with the coaching staff.

"Cedric has started to blossom," Chicago coach Lovie Smith said. "We have two good backs and we're going to play them both, but Cedric has earned the time he's gotten. He's not just being given something."

During the offseason, Benson was given a small lift. When Jones missed the offseason program because of a contract dispute, Benson was the starter. He opened camp looking like a guy who wanted to back that up.

"I've noticed a change in him," Bears defensive end Alex Brown said. "He has a better understanding of being a professional and he's brought a toughness to his game. We saw it in training camp this year."

Chicago linebacker Brian Urlacher agreed.

"He missed training camp last year and that put him behind, no question," Urlacher said. "But then he came into camp [this season] and he was running people over. We're not supposed to be hitting in practice, but he was taking people on. He was serious."

At the same time, Benson has returned to the personality he displayed in college. The dreadlocks are back in full bloom. Benson had shaved them before the 2005 draft, partly to distance himself from Williams, with whom he had been compared with for various reasons. Benson, had also been charged with possession of marijuana during college, the substance that led to Williams' first suspension from the NFL.

Now, Benson is back to embracing his relationship with Williams and distancing himself from the famed ESPN The Magazine cover story which featured the headline, "I'm not Ricky.

"The thing is that I never said that about Ricky and it really bothered me when it came out. I didn't want him to see it and wonder, 'What's this guy saying?" Benson said. "Ricky was always really good to me when he'd come back and see me play at Texas. He talked how we had to really stick together through all of this. He was in the NFL and he was treating me like I was already there."

It might have taken awhile, but Benson appears to have arrived.

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