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Mike Vandermause column: Benson a curious choice over former Packer Grant

Aug. 14, 2012
 
Green Bay Packers running back Cedric Benson takes a handoff from quarterback Aaron Rodgers during training camp practice Monday at Ray Nitschke Field. H. Marc Larson/Press-Gazette
Green Bay Packers running back Cedric Benson takes a handoff from quarterback Aaron Rodgers during training camp practice Monday at Ray Nitschke Field. H. Marc Larson/Press-Gazette

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The Green Bay Packers made a curious move when they signed running back Cedric Benson and gave Ryan Grant a stiff-arm.

The injury-depleted Packers had a choice between a pair of 29-year-old veteran running backs and went with Benson.

For as much as the Packers have praised Grant for his contributions to the team over the past five seasons, their actions speak volumes about what they think of his ability now.

Grant became an unrestricted free agent after last season and the Packers showed zero interest in bringing him back.

It’s obvious the Packers like Benson better than Grant, but why?

The two backs have produced comparable rushing statistics in recent seasons, with Grant owning a slight edge.

Grant has rushed for 4,016 yards, 25 touchdowns and a 4.3-yard average with the Packers, which includes a lost year in 2010 when he suffered a season-ending injury in the first game.

Benson has rushed for 4,176 yards, 21 touchdowns and a 3.8-yard average in his last four seasons in Cincinnati.

Grant has better receiving numbers (92 catches, 726 yards) than Benson (80 catches, 556 yards) over that span.

Perhaps the most glaring statistical difference is that Benson has fumbled nearly twice as often as Grant (15 to 8).

Plus, Grant knows the Packers’ offense inside and out and has a spotless off-the-field record, while Benson has been arrested four times since 2008.

“Ryan Grant has been a very good player for us in the past,” said Packers coach Mike McCarthy. “There’s a lot of decisions that go into every player acquisition on our team, a number of different factors. This isn’t just something that was thought of and done in the short term. There’s all different intangibles in acquiring a player. Cedric Benson’s a good fit for us.”

Maybe so, but not all the signs are obvious.

Benson served as the primary ball carrier with the Bengals, which goes against McCarthy’s preference to use a running back-by-committee approach.

When asked if he was surprised the Packers didn’t re-sign Grant, Aaron Rodgers said: “Those aren’t my decisions to make, so … We’re happy Ced’s here. Ryan’s been a great teammate, a great friend and I wish him the best, but Ced’s here and we’re going to move forward with Ced.”

Benson, who said he has matured and learned from his mistakes, deserves the chance to prove himself. He believes there’s plenty of football left in his body.

Benson said the Packers didn’t tell him why he was signed instead of Grant.

“They obviously maybe saw something that they liked in one guy or the other, and I’m here,” said Benson.

“Proving myself will be easy. I just need the football, and know where to run.”

The problem for Benson is that Rodgers gets the football more often than not in the Packers’ pass-happy offense.

Grant accepted a reduced role last season. Whether Benson can do the same remains to be seen.

mvandermause@greenbaypressgazette.com and follow him on Twitter @MikeVandermause.

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