Red Eye Chicago

Are they running from the truth?

Bears bristle at ground game concerns

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Tim Spencer, the Bears’ running backs coach, is usually rather reserved, but he became a bit testy when pressed about Cedric Benson’s performanc­e Saturday night against San Francisco.

“You know, I don’t know how you guys see the game,” Spencer said sharply. “I don’t necessaril­y see it as him having a bad game. I think he did some good things.

“He got some minus yards. I need to go back and look at it to see what happened, but I know I saw a couple of times, not only him, but a couple of other guys didn’t get started in the backfield. But that could be a lot of things.

“To me, it’s nothing to worry about.”

Maybe not at the moment, but what happens if Benson gains just 33 yards on 19 carries in the regularsea­son opener Sept. 9 at San Diego? What if he gets stopped eight times for no gain or a loss when Dallas comes to Soldier Field in Week 3?

Benson, dripping wet from his postgame shower, tried to convince himself the running game isn’t washed up.

“I thought it looked good,” he said. “We had some positive moves forward. And we also had a couple of mishaps [and] a couple of missed assignment­s, but nothing toward a downfall.”

If Saturday was viewed as a positive step for the running game, quarterbac­k Rex Grossman had better invest in some bags of ice with all the throwing he’ll have to do. Coach Lovie Smith’s motto continues to be run first, pass second, but it was Grossman’s 45-yard pass to Bernard Berrian on the first series that establishe­d the offense, not a big play by Benson.

“They were playing tight and strong in the box,” Benson said of the 49ers’ defense.

Added fullback Jason McKie: “San Francisco has a good defensive team. They gave us some hard looks.”

Actually, the 49ers’ defense ranked in the bottom half of the league against the run last season. Too often in the three exhibition­s, Bears backs have found themselves running in place rather than in space.

Adrian Peterson had better numbers than Benson did, but Peterson wasn’t running against the first-team defense.

And rookie Garrett Wolfe, promising because of his speed and a low running style, fumbled the ball on a third-down play. He recovered it.

Spencer insisted people are making too big a deal of the running game’s struggles. McKie said the same.

“Last year in the preseason it was the same thing: People talking about the running game, the running game,” he said. “Then when we got it going, you guys let off us. I don’t think anyone around here is really concerned.”

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