Martellus Bennett: Marked man courtesy of Hard Knocks

The spotlight has found Martellus Bennett. The Dallas Cowboys second round pick at tight end was not an expected pick for many of the draft-watchers of the team. Only a day before the draft, the Cowboys got rid of another second round TE who didn’t work out as expected, Anthony Fasano. Still, that left Dallas with all-everything TE Jason Witten and steady backup Tony Curtis. Bill Parcells was gone so most thought that Dallas wasn’t in the business of collecting TE’s anymore, but when the second round came around, the Cowboys war room selected Martellus Bennett. And promptly mentioned having to keep a foot on his neck to get the potential out of him. That foot is TE coach John Garrett, and so far, the foot/neck relationship is off to a very rocky start.

HBO's Hard Knocks lives with the Dallas Cowboys at camp, and while the debate about whether the cameras affect the Cowboys preparations goes on, there is no debate that the cameras do affect the way the fans see certain players. The spotlight will sometimes find a player and what we see is not always to our liking. Bennett’s primetime debut on TV is more like bad community theater. It’s just painful to watch.

Herein lays the power of television. Because we see it, we believe it. It seems like such a simple proposition. But we should know better by now, we’ve all been living in the age of reality television – we know that the “reality” in these shows are all relative. Take hours and hours and hours of tape, chop it up into a 50 minute show, and present some drama. That’s the basic formula.

You might be thinking that I’m working my way to some sort of defense of Bennett’s attitude at camp. You’d be incorrect. Those moments are there on tape and they show a very immature kid who doesn’t appear to be taking this huge opportunity with any kind of seriousness or desire. The Cowboys knew he was that kind of player coming in, but his potential talent and athleticism told them to take the risk. We are just moments into his career but those moments are beginning to paint a picture. HBO/NFL Films knew the back-story, they were ready to show it and danged if Bennett didn’t give them the ammunition. Most of us will walk away from the 2008 preseason with a very negative portrait of Bennett provided to us by the good people at HBO. It’s amazing what 10 minutes or so of screen time can accomplish.

Now Martellus Bennett is a marked man. He wears the Scarlet Letter, and it will color our perceptions of the guy for the immediate future. If he spends this year making mistakes, blowing assignments and generally not playing up to NFL standards, he will get crushed by the media and the fans. He won’t be just a rookie making mistakes; he’ll be a bad-attitude, no work-ethic, doesn’t-get-the-opportunity-in-front-of-him, bust. He’s no longer just an anonymous rookie trying to feel his way through the NFL, where articles in the press would still leave us with a divided opinion, just like we’ve had on so many players previously.

Not so with Martellus. It was all on TV. We’ve seen him roll his eyes at a coach who’s just trying to help him, something we’d let slide with an older vet, but not a rook with problems. We’ve seen him stand there and move in slow-motion as a coach tells him to put on his helmet, making the coach say it three times and still not doing it in a timely fashion. We’ve seen him make the coach give him instructions about tucking the ball away repeatedly, and taking forever to show the coach the proper motion, and then watch him drop a ball in a game and have him say it was because he didn’t tuck the ball away. The list goes on and it’s only two shows into the series.

HBO/NFL Films could redeem Bennett to some extent. Imagine if over the next couple of shows Hard Knocks presents the great reversal plot twist. They start showing moments when Bennett is attentive, or shots of him catching passes - even though it might be only a few, if you give it right the right background music and roll it in super slo-mo, it will look like he’s all-world. All you need is about five or six catches in a nice montage. Bennett might not be doing that much differently, he’d probably still be making some of the same mistakes we’ve seen, but our perception could change. And right now when there is probably lots of footage of him doing good things, it ended up on the cutting room floor. Reality courtesy of an editing machine. But even a reversal wouldn’t change the view entirely, what we see first tends to stick with us.

There’s no real point to this rant except to say that when the spotlight finds you on TV you’d better be ready for your close-up because people rarely forget their first impressions. Martellus Bennett didn’t know that rule. Now he’ll be fighting perception for a while. I’m not here to say whether Bennett will ultimately succeed or fail in Dallas, although I certainly have an opinion on that. I’m here to say that he’s got to succeed at a pretty high-level and a little bit quicker, or the fans will be restless.

I already know his issues. I saw them on TV.
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