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Columnist
Bears send loud message to Benson with 2nd pick
By Mike Imrem | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 4/27/2008 12:04 AM

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Like most athletes, running backs are a different breed of human being.

They don't think like we do. Reality rarely is realistic. Denial is more appealing.

So when the Bears drafted another running back Saturday, incumbent Cedric Benson probably shook his head, assumed that perplexed facial expression of his, and wondered how dumb these people are.

Sorry, big guy, but they aren't dumb enough to keep wishing upon an alleged star.

The Bears drafted somebody from Tulane named Matt Forte to, in general manager Jerry Angelo's words, "create competition" at running back.

Code: To win the job.

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Rashard Mendenhall was available in the first round, but he might disappoint as much as Benson did while Forte surprises as much as countless less heralded running backs have.

This is one of the great aspects of sports: Merit matters more than reputation. Produce and you're in. Don't and you're replaced.

If Benson didn't scream "Yikes!" when Forte was drafted, he might have after hearing Angelo.

"Maybe he's not the featured back we thought he'd be," he said of Benson. "We needed to be sure we're protected at that position."

So the Bears sent out a posse of scouts to find someone who might be what Benson was expected to be.

Forte might seem like an odd choice to compete with Benson. He says he was overlooked in high school. In college he played at Tulane in Conference USA, a secondary program in a secondary league. He had to make himself visible at the Senior Bowl and NFL Combine.

The Bears waited until the second round to draft him.

Benson? He was highly recruited out of high school. He played college ball at Texas in the Big 12, a primary program in a primary conference. Everyone knew of him when he was eligible for the NFL draft.

The Bears made him the fourth player taken overall.

Anywhere but sports this would be a mismatch. Here, the less likely to succeed often do and the less likely to fail often do.

Over three seasons, Benson became very good at one thing: Frustrating the Bears. If he wasn't injured he was underachieving.

The Bears either grossly over-drafted him or terribly underdeveloped him. Or maybe Benson simply failed to this point to reach his potential.

Enter Matt Forte.

According to Angelo, Forte is more than a complementary back tabbed to back up the starter and fill in on third downs.

"He's a three-down back," Angelo said.

In other words, the Bears hope Forte is what Benson was supposed to be, a full-service featured back who can bop to the last drop.

Stranger things have happened than a relative unknown from Tulane outperforming a relative known from Texas.

Teams have won Super Bowls after exhausting patience with a higher draft choice and replacing him with a lower draft choice.

So it wouldn't be all that ironic for the Bears to lose a Super Bowl in which Benson was injured and some day win one in which Forte excels.

The Bears refer to themselves as a running football team, but with Benson last season they were a football team that couldn't run.

It wouldn't be unusual for an anonymous featured back from Tulane -- instead of a ballyhooed one from Texas -- to make the Bears everything they want to be.