CINCINNATI – When it comes to the sporting cliché He’s got a chip on his shoulder, Aaron Rodgers just might be the leading authority on the subject these days.
After all, the Green Bay Packers quarterback is the same guy who still has the recruiting rejection letter from that misguided assistant coach at Purdue, the one who fueled Rodgers’ competitive fire by responding to his highlight tape with the following note: Good luck with your attempt at a college football career. This is the same guy who watched Michael Jordan’s infamous Basketball Hall of Fame induction speech – the one where the greatest basketball player/grudge holder of all time spent roughly 23 minutes itemizing each and every person, place or thing to have provided motivation for him, real or imagined – and thought it was pretty good.
So when Rodgers was extolling the virtues of his newest teammate – ex-Chicago Bears and -Cincinnati Bengals running back Cedric Benson – and pointed out what is figuratively residing on Benson’s shoulder pad, well, it wasn’t exactly a bad thing.
“It’s great. Hopefully young guys are taking notes – how much it means to him,” said Rodgers, who spoke of Benson’s motivation at least three times in a two-day span this week. “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.
“I love how much it means to him, and I love the chip he’s got on his shoulder. Hopefully he can have a good week this week.”
There’s no better place for Benson to make his Packers debut, of course, than at Paul Brown Stadium, the place where he thought he’d found a home with three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons the past three years. But when his contract expired and he hit the free-agent market, the Bengals never called. And for much of the offseason, none of the other 31 teams did, either.
“Having a chip on your shoulder is just like throwing kerosene on a fire. It ignites even more,” Benson explained earlier this week. “You dig deep because it becomes a pride thing. You know what type of player you are, how hard you work, you know what you can do. And when you’re in a situation where you don’t get picked up until later in training camp, knowing you’ve proven some things in this league and done some great things, it’s only natural for your reaction to be to want to shove it in people’s face and have an awesome year.”
Benson, who has been with the Packers for just 10 days, has already made that abundantly clear not only to Rodgers but others who’ve gotten to know him.
“You always have to have something that pushes you, motivates you – whether it’s a team that cut you that you’re going up against or a team that didn’t re-sign you and going up against,” said running backs coach Alex Van Pelt, who’s been spending extra time getting to know Benson and getting Benson to know the Packers’ offense. “There’s always something you reach for for motivation. Everyone’s got a little chip at some point that pushes them to make them work harder.”
Benson, who did not play in last week’s preseason game against Cleveland, said during the week that he’d like to rush for 100 yards against his former team before calling it a night. But Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, for one, doesn’t think Benson is motivated by how things ended in Cincinnati.
“Oh, I don't know about that. Ced left here on great terms. It was a great season. We lost in the playoffs. We think nothing but very highly of Ced Benson,” Lewis told Cincinnati-area reporters. “He did great things here. He was a good guy for our team.
“Ced was a very good player here. He was durable, gained the yards, did a nice job. I’m glad he has gotten the opportunity to get on another team and earn a position there.”
This isn’t the first time Benson has had a chip to cash in. When the Bears, who took him No. 4 overall in the 2005 NFL Draft, cut him in June 2008 in the wake of two alcohol-related arrests in a five-week span, it wasn’t until three months later that the Bengals took a chance on him, signing him to a one-year deal worth the four-year veteran minimum of $520,000 when injuries hit. Benson went on to rush for 747 yards in 12 games for the Bengals, who then re-signed him to a two-year, $7 million deal.
Benson posted back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons during that contract, but only received a one-year deal worth $3 million with another $2 million in incentives. Again, he delivered a 1,000-yard season. Again, there was no big payday, no long-term commitment in the offing.
So, he sat on the open market all offseason and waited. And waited. And waited. He wound up signing the ultimate prove-it contract with the Packers: A one-year deal that’s not only at the NFL seven-year veteran minimum of $825,000, it also contains no incentives and is a split contract, meaning that if Benson lands on injured reserve, he’ll only collect $393,000 instead of his full base salary.
But with third-year back James Starks, who entered camp as the starter before suffering a turf toe injury in the Aug. 9 preseason opener at San Diego, “a couple weeks” away from being able to return to practice according to coach Mike McCarthy, Benson has a legitimate chance of earning the Packers’ starting running back gig. If he does, he’s not the type to relinquish it.
“I think motivation comes in so many different forms and fashions, and as long as it’s used appropriately, it’s definitely an advantage of yours to have,” McCarthy said. “He seems very motivated. And I know he’s looking forward to playing Thursday.”
That he is. While Benson maintained that he doesn’t “hold anything personally against them, but naturally you’re going to want to show up on a team that passed on you,” his feelings about proving the Bengals (and everyone else) wrong are much more intense than that – and date all the way back to college at the University of Texas, where he was often compared to his predecessor, Ricky Williams.
“You know what? (The chip) comes from even before I was drafted,” Benson said. “There was a lot of comparison to Ricky Williams, but not in a positive way. Not the type of player he was on the field, but more so who he was off the field, the situations he was in off the field. So even from Day 1, I dealt with just a lot of negative feedback. I was always trying to turn it around. That’s fine, that’s just the way things are in this business. I know how to take care of it.
“Naturally I was confused (during the offseason). I didn’t understand. It felt like what I’ve done the past three years, I could have been an average back (in that time) and still been in the same situation now. So I was a little confused about it and what not. But I just put all that behind me and am just going to make the best of the situation I’m in. I feel it’s a true blessing. I’m healthy, I’m happy, and I’m going to make the most of it.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today,” and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.