Bears head coach Lovie Smith said Wednesday that he wouldn't have any hesitation about putting rookies Kyle Orton and Cedric Benson in the backfield at the same time. Just when that may happen this season for Chicago, though, is the big question.
Orton, the 22-year-old out of Purdue, has been named the Bears' starting quarterback in the aftermath of Rex Grossman's pre-season ankle injury and Chad Hutchinson's inability to master the offense. Benson, Chicago's top draft pick and the fourth player selected in the 2005 NFL draft, was late to sign with the Bears and figures to battle Thomas Jones for playing time at running back.
But Smith said Wednesday that he wouldn't mind having both Orton and Benson teaming up in Chicago's backfield. Such an opportunity may arise Sunday at FedExField, where the Redskins and Bears get their seasons rolling at 1 p.m.
"I feel good about putting the best player out there, period," added Smith. "That's about it. You'd like a guy with a lot of experience as your best player. But to me, it's about getting your best player on the field and going from there. If you have a young player, you have to realize that you're going to have to go through some growing pains. But that's a part of it."
Benson, the 5-11, 220-pound former Texas Longhorn, has only had a couple of practices at the NFL level so the Bears are still figuring out how he'll contribute.
He missed all of training camp, so he has some catching up to do.
Said Smith: "He's been working overtime. Hopefully, each day he'll get a little better. We'll see how he progresses as we get closer to the game."
As a senior at Texas, Benson rushed for 1,834 yards, third-best in the school's history, and 19 TDs.
In terms of Chicago's starter at running back, Jones, the six-year veteran out of the University of Virginia, is expected to start. But that doesn't mean that Benson won't be in the mix.
"We're going to play the best guy. There are enough balls to go around," said Smith. "We would love to have two running backs contribute. We hope we have that problem, where we have two players who are playing well.
"Right now, we have Thomas Jones, who's gone through all of training camp as our number one guy. We're staring the game with him and we expect him to have a super season."
Meanwhile, Orton, who last year at Purdue threw for 31 TDs with only five interceptions, is looking forward to making his first NFL start against a "good defense" in a "hostile environment."
"It's a challenge for our entire offense," said the 6-4, 223-pound Orton. "We definitely have to execute our plays. I'm sure I'm going to see a little bit more than most quarterbacks, with this being my first start."
Asked what he sees when he watches the Redskins' defense on film, Orton said: "A lot of athletes&and they make plays. You can tell that they fly at the ball and take chances, just to create turnovers and force you into mistakes."
"From mini-camp on," said Smith, "Kyle showed us things that we really like. He has a strong arm. He's a calm guy, and he played at a high level in college. We like his potential."