- Jeff Dickerson, ESPN Staff Writer
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Cedric Benson thinks he knows why it took nearly four months to catch on with another NFL team after his release from the Bears in June of 2008.
"I heard all the rumors that were said coming out of Chicago," Benson said Wednesday in a conference call with Chicago media. "Even the Bengals told me, they would call and inquire about me and get nothing but negative things -- just that I didn't work hard, that I was a prima donna, or didn't work hard on the field, or I wasn't focused. Anything negative they could say, it was said. I'm sure that contributed largely to me not getting picked up right away."
Benson's comments come before he gets a chance to show his old team what they're missing. The Bears take on the Bengals in Cincinnati on Sunday.
Bears coaches Lovie Smith and Ron Turner denied Benson's allegation later Wednesday.
"He was not blackballed by anyone in our organization," Smith said. "If anything, when a player decides to leave here, or is cut from here, we do everything we possibly can to help them go somewhere else. That was the case with Cedric."
Said Turner: "I don't like hearing that because I have a lot of respect for Cedric. Cedric has a lot of talent. I like him, he's a good guy, and I'm happy he's having success. I'm not surprised at all he's having success. He's a good football player with a lot of good qualities."
"I don't see it that way. I tried to support him. I liked him and wanted him to do well."
Benson, who is third in the NFL with 531 yards rushing, is finally living up to his first-round potential after fizzing out with the Bears, who selected him with the fourth overall pick of the 2005 draft. Instead of taking his place alongside Walter Payton and Gale Sayers, Benson rubbed teammates the wrong way and never fit in with the Bears.
"Some questions that you all ask are very interesting because I don't have the answers," Benson said. "I think there was once upon a time where I would like to have known the answer. But now it kind of doesn't really matter anymore. But I couldn't pinpoint it. I remember there being a lot of talk about the (contract) holdout and things like that, but that's quite ridiculous in this business because there are holdouts involved. It's not just football, there's the business of contracts involved. I'm sure there was once upon a time where many players on that team had a holdout or something along those lines."
Cincinnati head coach Marvin Lewis said earlier Wednesday he spoke with Smith in 2008 about Benson, and that the Bears coach shared very positive things about the running back.
"Lovie knew the deal," Benson said. "Lovie knew what few did see up there. Lovie knew what Cincinnati is getting now."
Benson was seen as the bruising tailback the run-oriented Bears had been missing for years. Benson, though, struggled to beat out Thomas Jones and then had a number of well-publicized run-ins with the law. After his second alcohol-related arrest in a month, the Bears cut him loose on June 9, 2008.
"None of the stuff I read was true. I don't know exactly what happened," Palmer said.
Maybe Benson changed. Maybe the perception and reality didn't quite mesh. Or maybe it just helped that he joined a team needing a running back.
"Dreams are coming true," he said. "It's a wonderful feeling and I will promise you that I will take full advantage of it all the time."
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.
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