Bears to rotate Benson, Jones, Peterson in camp

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- It took only a few minutes Wednesday for coach Lovie Smith to be asked about what shapes up as the hottest topic at Bears training camp.

Who's going to line up as his starting tailback in Thursday's first practice?

Thomas Jones, who rushed for more than 1,300 yards last season but skipped some voluntary workouts because he's presumably not happy with his situation or his contract?

Or Cedric Benson, the team's first-round pick from 2005 who was slowed by a holdout and a knee injury last season while playing in only nine games?

Smith danced around the issue several times before finally giving some clues.

"As we go into training camp, our starting rotation will be exactly how it was as we finished OTAs [organized team activities]. How is that?" Smith said.

That would mean Benson would line up with the first team. Both Jones and Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs, who also skipped the voluntary drills, were demoted to second team during a mandatory minicamp.

"We're not getting ready to play a game, we're geared toward being ready to play Sept. 10. We're going to let all three of the guys get a chance to prove what they can do, and in time you will see everybody out there getting reps," Smith said.

The third back is Adrian Peterson, who got a three-year contract extension last month. Jones has two years remaining on his four-year deal. After a 36-day holdout, Benson signed a five-year contract last year including approximately $17 million in guaranteed money.

Told that he would probably work with the first string, Benson said Wednesday evening he was glad but expected there to be competition with Jones for the job.

"I don't doubt it, which is good," he said. "You want it that way. So I'm looking forward to it."

Smith led the Bears to an 11-5 season and was voted NFL Coach of the Year. Chicago built it success on a strong defense that featured Player of the Year Brian Urlacher and three other Pro Bowl selections before it wilted against Carolina in the Bears' first playoff game.

Smith wants the offense to make similar strides this season because it will be running for a second straight year under offensive coordinator Ron Turner. Key will be the health of Rex Grossman, who's had a broken ankle and a torn knee ligament the last two seasons.

"I feel great. My body feels good. It's really fun coming here knowing the offense, having played in some games with this offense," Grossman said Wednesday as he unloaded his belongings into a dorm at Olivet Nazarene University.

"Having a year of understanding it, being around Coach Turner and understanding what he wants, it's a relief coming to Bourbonnais knowing the offense," he said.

With Grossman healthy, the Bears will use training camp to find a second receiver to complement go-to pass catcher Muhsin Muhammad. Mark Bradley, who became a starter as a rookie before his season was ended by a knee injury, Bernard Berrian, Airese Currie, Rashied Davis and Justin Gage are among the candidates.

The Bears were run-oriented last season, moreso when rookie Kyle Orton was running the team with Grossman injured. Chicago has added veteran Brian Griese as a backup to Grossman.

In assessing the running backs, Grossman called Jones one of the leaders of the team, so it will be interesting if he is relegated to second team behind Benson to see what that means to the offense.

"I think it will play itself out," Turner said. "All three of the guys will get a lot of reps, play and prepare. It will take care of itself."