Bennett Embraces Role
Friday, May 9, 2008
By Nick Wagoner
It’s one thing to be asked to replace a player who was productive player for a long time. It’s another thing to be asked to replace a legend that doubled as the face of the franchise. To be asked to do both, though is a heavy burden that Drew Bennett is about to embrace.
Signed in the 2007 offseason, Bennett came to the Rams before last season as a guy being asked to chip in behind the celebrated duo of Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce. Bennett signed a lucrative long term contract with the idea that he would be the No. 3 target in the passing game with the eventual task of replacing the aging Bruce.
Of course, Bennett didn’t know when he would be asked to fill those awfully large shoes but he did his best to prepare for it. Well, sooner came before later when the Rams chose to release Bruce on Feb. 28.
Bruce signed with rival San Francisco a few days later and suddenly Bennett found himself right back at the top of the team’s depth chart as the starter opposite Holt.
“I feel like I was prepared well and I feel like I prepare every offseason to play full time,” Bennett said. “It’s definitely a different mindset though as far as knowing what I am getting myself into and getting back to a starting role after missing it for a year. I have been preparing more, especially in the classroom.”
To that end, Bennett has been a frequent visitor to the Russell Training Center in the offseason. Much like quarterback Marc Bulger, Bennett was around as much as possible this offseason.
And why not? Asked to fill the giant hole left by Bruce is enough, but he also is being asked to learn the new system brought in by offensive coordinator Al Saunders.
It was only natural for Bennett to make himself a part of the daily landscape.
“I think everyone is going to learn real quick that this offense from the stance of learning it is there are no shortcuts and there’s no easy way to learn it,” Bulger said. “You just have to do it. He’s here already and he’s working hard and he’s in good shape already and there’s going to be a lot of studying. That’s why it’s important for all of our guys to be here.”
Bennett’s motivation extends well beyond replacing Bruce in the starting lineup, though that doesn’t hurt the cause. Bennett was given a substantial contract with the knowledge that one day he would be one of the top two wide outs.
The expectations from fans and media were great even as the No. 3 receiver in 2007. Bennett was supposed to be the guy to step in to the slot and make plays over the middle and use his 6’5 frame to become a serious threat in the red zone.
After developing a nagging hamstring issue early in training camp, Bennett never quite got on track. He missed the season opener against Carolina because of the injury and caught just six passes in his first three games.
When all was said and done, Bennett missed another game against Seattle on Oct. 21 because of the injury and was held without a catch against Cincinnati on Dec. 9.
For the season, Bennett had 33 catches for 375 yards with three touchdowns. Those numbers fell well below anything he had produced in his six seasons in the league in terms of yards per catch and far short of his production in any of the previous three seasons.
“It was awful,” Bennett said. “Anytime you go backward and you’re used to playing every play and then you play 20 to 30 percent of the time, it’s really tough especially when you are 3 and 13 and your offense is struggling a little bit.”
Bennett is doing his best to ensure that he has a breakout 2008 season. He had already forged a solid relationship with Bulger and is enjoying the opportunities Saunders is affording him.
This season, Bennett will move to the outside on a more permanent basis and his role will certainly be expanded.
The first order of business for Bennett in the offseason was to get back to full strength, something he feels he has accomplished already after spending plenty of time working out the kinks in his hams
Bennett knows replacing Bruce on the field and in the locker room will extremely difficult and he’s just hoping to carve his own path.
“You are never happy to lose a player like Isaac Bruce,” Bennett said. “I learned a lot from him and the team really loved him but I’m happy that I will have a more substantial role in the offense. Isaac was going into his 14th year and not so much as I expected to take reps away from Isaac, I did expect to play and that’s what I am here