Saturday, August 13, 2016

Bennett Comes As Advertised, Brings Nastiness To The Edge

It appears that Martellus Bennett comes as advertised.

That is, if the first half of his very first preseason game of his New England Patriots' career is any indication, as the eighth year veteran was the best player on the field for Bill Belichick's offense on Thursday night against the New Orleans Saints.

He was the best pass catcher and the best route runner, which goes to figure as he was the only veteran of any consequence on the field for New England so far as pass catchers went, but what really set him apart is that he - along with guards Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason - was the best blocker the Patriots put out on the field as well.

Coming out of college at Texas A&M, Bennett was considered a rare breed - a high school basketball star who transitioned to tight end seamlessly, so much so that he became the only tight end in NCAA history who averaged four receptions per game along with five "knockdown" blocks per contest.  His length, spindly arms and enormous hands serving him well in all aspects of the game...

...yet, being drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the second round, he found himself a seldom-used backup to Jason Whitten, as the Cowboys' coaching staff had to endure best buddies Whitten and Tony Romo play pitch and catch, leaving not just Bennett an afterthought, but many disgruntled pass catchers.

Four years was enough for Bennett and the Cowboys, but they should have known what was up as far as perception around the league with Bennett when, in 2009, Dallas was offered a first round draft pick by Cincinnati for him, but the Cowboys refused and instead wasted his talents on the end of a bench.

Always outspoken about his skill set, Bennett jabbered constantly about being misused in Dallas and let his weight get up to nearly 300 pounds before the Cowboys decided to part ways. So it should have been obvious to the management of the Bears that if they wasted his talent, Bennett was going to speak up - only the Bears got something out of him when they decided to part ways, sending the one-time Pro Bowl selection to New England along with a sixth round draft pick, getting a meager fourth rounder in return.

But Foxborough is unlike anywhere else in the NFL, and there certainly isn't a coach in the league who knows how to get the most out of a player better than Belichick, who was on the cusp of the perfect offense when he drafted Rob Gronskowski and Aaron Hernandez in the 2010 NFL draft, planning to unleash a two tight end alignment that would revolutionize the game...

...which it did anyway, despite Gronkowski's lengthy stay on the IR and Hernandez life sentence for murder in 2013.

He was so close that it really had to sting when Hernandez got thrown into the poke for being a murderous thug, especially in light of what Gronkowski has been able to accomplish since - but multiple attempts to find a complementary tight end to the unanimous All Pro has failed miserably, mainly because the players he brought in, Tim Wright and Scott Chandler, were in a different area code than the multi-faceted Gronkowski, and they subsequently wilted and were released.

Mason looking for a victim on White's big play
So the decision to pursue Bennett probably had to be a no-brainer for Belichick.

And not just because of his pass catching ability, which has produced numbers just shy of Gronkowski's league-leading digits from the past couple of seasons, but also because he is rated as a top blocking tight end, a skill set that Patriots' fans got to take a look at on Thursday night.

Out of 31 snaps, Bennett went out in the pattern just ten times - instead, putting on a edge blocking exhibition that has to have the Dark Master giddy with excitement.

And not just your standard I'm-a-pass-catcher-but-I'm-blocking-on-this-play effort, Bennett got downright nasty, especially on running plays, his work helping to spring reserve running back Brandon Bolden a couple of times, opening holes for LeGarrette Blount on the perimeter, and leading the way on James White's 56 yard catch and run..

Blount missed his hole a couple of times, but Bolden set up behind Bennett nicely on two occasions, waiting for the big man to literally drive his man out of the gap before shooting through it.  On White's delayed screen, both right guard Shaq Mason and wide receiver Aaron Dobson laid perfect blocks to spring White, who was then escorted down the field by Bennett, who was holding off his man at the same time.
Bennett escorting White

Excellent stuff, and worth the wait to see it with our own eyes - he has been written about, his role in the offense pondered and opined on relentlessly, but until we saw him in action, he was just the "Black Unicorn", a myth.

But he is hardly a myth, as more than just a couple of Saints' front seven defenders found out on Thursday night, as he was spotted discussing things with Gronkowski on the sidelines after throwing several Saints out of the club - well, maybe not throw them out of the club, but he seemed to revel in pushing them around, more times than not driving his man right out of the picture.

For sure, Belichick has revived Patriots' philosophies from a time when his teams were physical, and always more physical than the other guys.  It's how he won three Super Bowls in the span of just four seasons, and seeing his brand new tight end putting linebackers on the ground in the running game and picking up the edge as a pass blocker has to confirm - in his mind, anyway - that once he trims the roster down to 53, he will have one of the most physical teams in his tenure.

When combined with Gronkowski and the no-nonsense attitude brought by offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia that filters down to his linemen, last season's difficulties in the trenches should become just a faded memory, the running game should gain traction and the benefits to the passing game should go without saying...

3 comments:

  1. hmmmm what is that smell oh it's smells like RING #5

    ReplyDelete
  2. Carpes Diem Patriots, just as always!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Carpes Diem Patriots, just as always!

    ReplyDelete