Martellus Bennett is Living the Life of a ‘Giant’
New Giants tight end Martellus Bennett hasn’t been shy about expressing his thoughts. In fact, the colorful Bennett has quickly become a favorite go-to guy for his candid, offbeat, and unique thoughts.
But just who is Martellus Bennett, and why is he so misunderstood?
Some think it’s because he seeks attention – after all, he was firmly entrenched behind All-Pro tight end Jason Witten for the first four years of his career when he was with the Dallas Cowboys. Still others think that Bennett has a higher opinion of himself that doesn’t quite match reality.
The truth, though is that Bennett is a competitor, a man with a giant personality. He is a person for whom if there was a perfect theme song, it would have to be The Animals’ 1965 classic, “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” as thanks to his colorful, yet engaging personality with the media, Bennett has become somewhat of a puzzle that people are still trying to figure out.
Finding His Way
In many ways, Bennett’s path in to the NFL is the stuff dreams are made of. A three-year starter at tight end at Taylor High School in Alief, Texas, Bennett, was a consensus prep All-America selection, and a 2-time all-district and All-Greater Houston choice who also earned first-team Class 5A all-state honors from the Texas Sports Writers Association after finishing with a team-high 42 catches for 487 yards and 6 touchdowns as a senior in 2004.
But ironically, it wasn’t football that seemed to be in Bennett’s immediate future at the time. Rather, he drew attention from NBA scouts who were intrigued by Bennett the guard who in 2004-05 earned All-Greater Houston accolades after averaging 23 points and 8.2 rebounds per-game as a senior.
Earning a pre-draft workout with the Seattle SuperSonics, Bennett said he did well in his drills; but Seattle ultimately decided to pass on him, as did the rest of the NBA. So Bennett, somewhat discouraged over the missed opportunity, enrolled at Texas A&M where his career path would change.
“When I went to college, I was only going to play basketball for one year and go back into the NBA draft,” he said. “My brother (Bucs defensive end Michael Bennett) was at A&M, and the coach there talked me into playing football so by the time I finished lifting weights in college, I was like a whole different athlete.”
Bennett did well enough with football to draw the attention of NFL scouts, one of which was from the Dallas Cowboys. So in the 2008 draft, the team made the 6-6 Bennett their second round pick, the 61st overall pick in the draft that year, with an eye toward the future.
There was only one problem though for Bennett. Not only did he find himself behind a potential Hall of Famer in Jason Witten, he found himself on a roster that throughout his career was loaded with talent at receiver and running back, which made it hard for him to get a chance to get the ball.
“When I was there, remember we had (Terrell Owens), Patrick Crayton, Witten, Dez Bryant, Miles Austin, Laurent Robinson, Felix Jones, Marion Barber, Tashard Choice – that’s so many weapons and you just can’t give the ball to everyone, know what I mean?”
So instead, Bennett, who admitted to being discouraged at first at his lack of reps, took on a completely new attitude by embracing what the Cowboys were asking him to do, which was to block.
“That was my role on the team,” Bennett said. “So I set out to become one of the best blocking tight ends in the league because that was the way for me to stay on the field and help the team out.
“People seem to forget that I was a really good blocker for the Cowboys. I graded out exceptionally well there. A lot of times when you saw a big run, a lot of it was on my side. They didn’t ask me to catch a lot of balls; that wasn’t my role because Witten was the guy – he earned all the balls he got gets because he’s a great player. I learned a lot from being behind him and watching him play.”
When Bennett’s contract came up for renewal, he was faced with the choice of re-signing with Dallas, whom he said offered him a deal that was about the same as the reported one-year, $2.5M contract he signed with the Giants on March 14, 2012. But he didn’t take the Cowboys’ offer because, I felt like it was about time for me to move on and start building my legacy.”
The Giants, who of course were looking for help at tight end after losing Jake Ballard and Travis Beckum to knee injuries suffered in the Super Bowl, quickly made Bennett one of their top free agent targets, no doubt attracted to his prospects as a blocker.
“We get a guy with this quality and we can say to him, ‘You go out on the field, you go from less than 30 percent play time to 70-75-80 percent play time just by if you come here and if you are willing to pay the price to be what you want to be,” head coach Tom Coughlin said of Bennett shortly after the team announced his signing. “Here’s the opportunity.’”
However, Bennett’s Giants tenure got off on the wrong foot as during the spring, he tweaked a hamstring that kept him on the sideline for most of the spring OTAs, and he found himself in the midst of a flap when Mike Pope, his position coach, let it slip that Bennett had packed on a few pounds which, to this day, the tight end insists was muscle.
“No one understands that I wasn’t running for like six weeks because of my hamstring — I was just lifting weights,” Bennett said, while adding that he’s since dropped some of his rumored 290 lb. spring weight. “It’s still going down. By the time the season starts, I’ll probably be down to about 272-275 lbs. I’m about 278 lbs. now.”
He’s also appreciative that the work he put in over the off-season might actually pay off for a team willing to give him more of a chance.
“When I was with Dallas, it used to be a little discouraging because I’d be like, ‘Damn, I worked on my routes all summer, and then I get to the game, and I didn’t get to run that many routes.’ Here, I felt like everything I worked on during the off-season would be put to use in the offense. So I kicked it up a couple of notches because I have a lot riding on this season and on myself.”
Becoming a Giant
In order for Bennett to fulfill the expectations he and the Giants have for him, he’s had to get used to some subtle changes to his technique instituted by Mike Pope, the veteran tight ends coach who has a knack for bringing out the untapped talent in players whom others have typically overlooked.
Thus far, Bennett said he’s taken to Pope’s lessons like a hand in glove.,
“I think the thing he does really well is he’s very detailed oriented about every single thing. Most times when you coach, you just coach what the tight end has to do, but he’s coaching every single part of it to include what the other positions are doing so you understand every single part of a play.
“It’s not just what you’re looking for; it’s what the backs are looking for, what the guard is doing. I think that helps a lot of guys out because the more you understand, the more you know what to do as far as how to get open, how to play, and what to expect as far as the defense.”
Pope has also worked to tweak Bennett’s technique just a bit to help him gain better leverage in his one-on-one battles.
“Coach (John) Garrett in Dallas is a good tight ends coach, and the blocking we did there (was) a lot of technique work with the push and drive and bringing your hips so you’re belly to belly. I think here, there are some things I have a hard time changing right now, like putting the inside foot back – since I’ve been in the league, I’ve always put the inside foot up, so that’s been kind of a tough adjustment for me, but it’s something I’m working on making second nature because I’ve seen it make a difference.”
He’s also been trying to earn the trust of quarterback Eli Manning in the passing game. Against Jacksonville, the man who this summer referred to himself as ‘The Black Unicorn’ caught all three of the passes thrown his way for 27 yards, and a touchdown, tying rookie Rueben Randle for the team lead in receiving yards.
“I want to catch the ball every single time there’s a passing play,” Bennett said. “I always want the ball in my hands, and I always want them to run the ball to my side. I’m super competitive in every part of the game.”
He’s also somewhat of a riddle who has somehow earned a reputation as being a slacker and a guy who dances to his own beat, a notion he said couldn’t be further from the truth.
A Soul Whose Intentions Are Good
There’s something about Bennett – a certain swag– that seems to rub some people the wrong way.
“I think a lot of it comes from the way I walk,” he said when asked why he thinks people have this misconception about him. “It’s funny – Justin Tuck and Osi (Umenyiora) always make fun of me because every time I walk by them, they’re like, ‘Hey, man you ok? Oh he just walks like that.’
“I kind of walk in a laid back way, but I run very fast. So if we’re running plays, and I start walking back, I guess it looks like I don’t care like I should, or I’m not busting myself.”
It was his walk, he believes, that cost him his chance at a career in the NBA. “I did really well in the drills for Seattle, but after them, I had the same walk, and when I went to GM Nate McMillan’s office, he said to me, ‘Hey, you look like you don’t want to be here.’
“I was like, ‘I’m in high school working out for a chance to be drafted into the NBA – what do you mean?’ So he said it was about the way I walked. So that’s something that haunted me since I was a kid, and then I guess sometimes I’m blessed enough to make some stuff look like it’s easier than it really is, so it looks like I don’t go full speed when I actually do – ask any of the guys I’ve gone against.”
Bennett paused when asked if the misconception people have about him as an athlete bothered him.
“It used to because I’d be busting myself every day and people would be like, ‘Hey, you don’t work hard.’ Even in the summer, I’d work out three times a day. The other thing is that I was never, ‘Oh look at how hard I’m working out. Look at me,’ because I felt like that’s what I’m supposed to do. I’m so used to doing that, so I never had to call attention to my workouts.”
He stretched out his long legs and leaned back on the stone bench. “I am a laid back person, but I also know when it’s time to work. When I’m working, I’m going hard and I’m intense. When I’m not working, I’m having fun and enjoying life. My philosophy in life is ‘Fall in love, eat great food, and become great at what you do.’ So that’s what I try to do every day.”
He also tried to be a good teammate while at the same time, not trying to become the center of attention.
“All the guys seem to love being around me and think I’m one of the coolest people to be around,” he said. “Whenever I’m sitting at a table, there’s never guys getting up to leave or saying, ‘Here comes that (guy).’”
Pope said that Bennett’s outgoing personality hasn’t been a problem in the meeting rooms or on the field.
“He has an outgoing personality. He’s a bright guy and he likes to be a little creative, which is fine as long as it stays within the confines of all of you,” Pope said. “ In our system, he’s going to be one of us and that’s why we’ve been able to win because we’ve been so closely united and veered away from those. I have had some exotic personalities, but I wouldn’t put him in the top five.”
Pope praised Bennett for buying into the Giants’ mantra.
“He’s been part of our ‘all in.’ He’s been helpful in the meetings. He’s talked to the young players. We’re not about individuals, and I think we have so many other good players here, who live by that philosophy that Tom preaches and what has helped us to win. I think he’s joined in with that.”
Before signing with the Giants, Bennett took into consideration the intense scrutiny he’d receive coming in as a free agent. However, the pros far outweighed the cons, and he said that his decision to join the Giants really hasn’t been as stressful as one might have initially thought.
“The outside pressure isn’t more than what I put on myself so ultimately I want to be great. I don’t want to be just a JAG (just another guy). I want to be great. I push myself pretty hard. I stay after practice, I run, I do everything I need to do – extra film, extra study. I took from Witten and his approach to the game and the things he did to get ready for practices and games. So I do a lot of that now because I think I can become great if I work at it.”
He’s also getting a nice education going against Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Umenyiora in practice, as he continues to adjust to the Giants’ system.
“We did a good job in that selection, I believe, as a free agent,” said Pope of Bennett. “He has bought into our system. He’s learning a language; he’s going from Greek to Latin, because very obviously the system he played in is probably the third or fourth system he has played in through college and in Dallas. He understands very quickly the concept, but you have to translate into our verbiage. And that’s probably been the thing that slowed him down.
“I just feel like I have to get better and better – I’m not near where I think I should be or could be,” Bennett added. “That comes with more reps and I have a long way to go to be the player I want to be and the player I think I can be.”
He also hopes to one day tap into the knowledge and experience of his childhood idol, former Denver Broncos tight end and Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe.
“There have been times when I’ve thought about reaching out to Shannon and just talking to him to pick his brain,” Bennett said. “I never really had a mentor at the position, and he was someone I always admired growing up. So I’d like to reach out to a guy like that and work with him. In the near future, I’m going to get on the phone with my agent and have him reach out to his people and see if it can happen.”
And what would be the first thing he would ask Sharpe?
“Just how to get open all the time,” Bennett said with a smile. “He always seemed like he was wide open.”
Until he can connect with Sharpe, Bennett has one goal that he hopes to impress upon the Giants and their fans.
“Consistency. Being consistent throughout the year and being dependable. If the quarterback expects me to be there, be there all the time. Show them that on Sunday that they are going to get an All-Pro effort every week. Everything else they need, I feel like I can do. For me, it’s all about ensuring consistency.”
A New Chapter
It’s funny how life sometimes takes certain twists and turns, and for Bennett, his will take another interesting turn when on Sept. 5, he’ll line up against his old teammates, this time in a situation where the intensity will be double that of what he was used to in practice, and where the results will count
“It’s going to be fun,” he said of the upcoming home opener against Dallas. “They’re like brothers from another mother, so I’m looking forward to it.”
Bennett smiled when asked if he though he could get the best of former teammates such as DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer.
“I won’t say I’m the best at everything, but I don’t think anyone is going to out-compete me in any part of the game,” he said, after some careful thought. “I understand what my role is. I’m just super excited to be here and looking forward to doing whatever it takes to help the Giants win.”