Where Did That Guy Come From? Martellus Bennett And The Tight Ends

In this series, we examine how each player that wears the star on his helmet arrived at his current destination.

I'll highlight one player from the group to start the post, and then cover all other players at the position(s). The series kicked off here, with Roy Williams and the wide receivers. We then moved on to the Andre Gurode and the interior offensive linemen, Doug Free with the tackle group, and Felix Jones with the running backs. Now we'll look at the tight end position.

Name: Martellus Bennett

Position: Tight End

DOB: 3.10.87

College: Texas A&M

Height: 6' 6.5"

Weight: 265 lbs.

Drafted by the Cowboys out of Texas A&M with the 61st overall pick (2nd round) of the 2008 draft, Martellus Bennett has been the topic of many discussions by Cowboys fans. Bennett is a towering and imposing figure, physically resembling everything you would want in a tight end. A native of Alief, Texas, he was the fourth tight end selected in 2008, following first rounder Dustin Keller of the New York Jets, and fellow second rounders John Carlson (Seattle) and Fred Davis (Washington). 

Bennett was picked to be a bookend to Jason Witten in a two-tight end offense, and the All-Pro's primary backup. Terrell Owens was still the primary focus of the passing game going into 2008, with over 1,300 yards and 15 TDs in '07. The Cowboys were saying goodbye to the ultimate complementary wideout in Terry Glenn. Glenn was one of my favorite Cowboys during his tenure in Dallas. I've honestly never seen a player better capable of making unbelievable, acrobatic catches like Glenn did. His ability to make toe-tapping sideline catches always amazed me, and he survived quite a few hits for someone of his small stature.

The two-tight end set was a recent remnant of the Bill Parcells regime. That was one of his favorite personnel packages and most of his disciples use it regularly.

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The Cowboys didn't think Patrick Crayton would be able to fully take over for Glenn, and with Jason Witten being a critical component of Tony Romo's offense, the Cowboys understandably wanted to have a competent threat ready to replace Witten should an injury occur. After selecting a top flight running back and cornerback in the first round (Felix Jones and Mike Jenkins respectively), the Cowboys seemed to be striking consensus gold in the 2008 draft when they plucked Bennett.

CBSSports.com Draft Preview on Bennett:

[Pass Catching:] Has adequate speed, but runs with a normal stride (needs to stay in his patterns tighter) and is best when used on the move, whether coming off the line or working in the slot … Not a sudden mover, but has adequate change-of-direction agility for his position … Likes to block and plays with good aggression … Will not hesitate to go vertical and compete for the off-target throws … Works hard to sustain his blocks and plays with consistent effort … Does well in school and has no problem taking plays from the chalkboard to the playing field … Does not show suddenness getting into his routes, but moves his feet to sustain and gains advantage to hook a "nine" technique … Has the strength to power through the hold up and avoids under-coverage on the route stem … Needs route refinement, as he takes soft-angle cuts too often and will drift quite a bit when having to go long distances … Needs to show more explosion coming out of his stance and accelerate quicker in the open field, as he does not always live up to his timed speed … Showed improvement extending for the ball outside his frame as a senior, but he will revert to body catching and drops too many … Must be more alert to second-level defenders as he is prone to running into spots rather than trying to find the soft areas to settle under …

[Blocking:]Shows intent as a blocker and has the base to effectively hold his ground at the point of attack (will get walked back when he gets too upright in his stance, though) … Shows good positioning blocking on the edge, as he is adept in sliding his feet back and moving laterally to pick up the blitz … .When he keeps his pad level down, he is much more efficient generating a strong hand punch, but must remain patient, as he tends to overextend on reach blocks … Good stalker for cut blocks at the second level, showing intent to punish the linebackers … Active with his feet in attempts to leverage when blocking on the move. Because of his size, he tends to get a little upright in his stance, which allows defenders to get their hands into his chest … Needs to stand more flat-footed coming off the snap to maintain balance and leg drive when pulling … .While he shows good intent as a blocker, he needs to show better angle awareness, as he will fall off blocks and overextends … Looks mechanical in his routes, lacking fluid moves … Needs to concentrate every snap and had multiple false-start penalties.

Everyone remembers Bennett most for the infamous 'high and tight' instructions repeated to him by tight end coach John Garrett during the 2008 episodes of HBO's Hard Knocks series. Bennett is an engaging personality that the camera loves, and HBO did a great job of painting Bennett in a petulant light. He has had many instances since that have not done much to change the perception that Bennett leans towards the immature and unfocused. This past off-season, Bennett was the 1,284,318 athlete to have naked pictures of themselves surface on the internet. He has also taken flak for his Black Olympics YouTube video, as well as his twitter tweets and other web exploits.

In 2009, he was fined $22,000 by the team for his occasionally profane rap video that mentioned several teammates and front office personnel, including Jerry Jones himself. For those inclined to embrace jokesters of his nature, Bennett is seen as a gold mine for random fits of comedy. He is constantly retweeted and blogged about, and even had a run as a blogger for one of the mainstream Dallas media outlets. You can follow Martellus @KungFuAstronaut.

Since entering the pros, Bennett's pass catching skills have been more potential than production. Every year it seems that we anticipate him becoming a primary focus of the offense, and every year we spin those projections forward. The truth is, there never will be a chance for Bennett to get extended touches barring an injury. In fact, most in-the-know fans were looking for John Phillips to supplant Bennett as a primary cog heading into 2010. Phillips was intriguingly successful at the end of 2009 and in 2010 training camp as the H-Back option in the Cowboys offense.

In 46 career games, Bennett has collected 68 catches for 702 yards and four touchdowns.

As a blocking tight end however, Bennett may only be outdone by his teammate Witten. With an overall rating of +13.1, Bennett actually ranked as the third best overall tight end by our friends at ProFootballFocus.com. This was wholly due to his blocking skills. While only scoring a +0.3 is pass catching, Bennett rated as a +1.8 in pass blocking and an outstanding +10.8 in run blocking. This was only a slight uptick from his 2009 run blocking rating where he ranked fifth with an +8.1.

Heading into the 2009 season, Jerry Jones said he turned down a significant trade offer for Martellus Bennett. The Cincinnati Bengals, a team infamous for front office leaks, were reported to have offered at least a second round pick. With the development and anticipated return of John Phillips in 2011, you'd think that Jones would be listening to offers for Bennett this off-season though. Dave reported in January that even Martellus has been hearing he is on the block. Although a lot of Cowboys fans rank him as our third best tight end, you'd have to think that other NFL teams still salivate over Bennett's skill sets. Playing behind Jason Witten, the focal point of the Cowboys offense, will probably excuse his low production numbers to competing GMs. They probably haven't witnessed all the lack of focus plays; the ones that have caused the drops that keep Romo from repeatedly targeting him.

I'd probably tend to agree. If Bennett was the top man on a tight end depth chart, I could easily see him getting four grabs for 65 yards a game. That's 64 catches for over 1,000 yards folks. While being an upper echelon blocker and having a year left on a late 2nd round rookie deal? That could just be worth something come draft day...if trades are still allowed, that is.

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Bennett played football and basketball at Alief Taylor High School. He was a three-year starter and two-time All-District and All-Greater Houston selection at tight end. In his senior year, he caught a team-high of 42 catches for 487 yards and six touchdowns, earning first-team Class 5A all-state honors from the Texas Sports Writers Association. He also averaged 23 points and 8.2 rebounds per game as a senior in basketball.

As a college football prospect in his senior year of high school, Bennett was a five-star recruit ranked by Rivals.com as the No. 1 tight end and No. 8 best player in the 2005 prospect class. He was recruited by Texas A&M, Duke, Kansas, LSU, Miami, Oklahoma, and Texas. Although originally committed to play for Miami, he chose to sign a National Letter of Intent to play for Texas A&M.

Bennett declared for the 2005 NBA Draft after his senior season, though did not hire an agent, intending to go to college if he did not get selected in the first round. NBA scouts informed him that it was unlikely he would, causing him to withdraw from the draft. He decided to enroll in classes in the second summer session at Texas A&M.

Some of the players drafted in the 32 picks after Bennett include: CB Charles Godfrey, CB Chevis Jackson, FB Jacob Hester, LB Tavares Gooden, LB Dan Connor, DT Pat Sims, S Tom Zbikowski  RB Jamaal Charles and TE Jermichael Finley. 2011 will be the final season of Bennett's original rookie contract.

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Let's take a look at the origins of the other tight ends that are on the Cowboys roster.

Player Name Pos. DOB College Path To The Cowboys
Martin Rucker TE 5.4.85 Missouri Drafted in the third round of the 2008 draft by Cleveland with a pick that was originally Dallas'. Signed to the practice squad in August 2010 after being released by Philadelphia. Promoted to the 53 man roster early December 2010
Jason Witten TE 5.6.82 Tennessee Originally drafted in the third round of the 2003 draft out of Tennessee by the Dallas Cowboys. Signed to a six year extension for $29 million that has two seasons remaining on the contract. Next two tight ends off the board: Mike Seidman and Visanthe Shiancoe. Notable players drafted after #69: WR Nate Burleson, RB Justin Fargas, QB Chris Simms, G Montrae Holland, LB Bradie James.
John Phillips TE 6.11.87 Virginia Drafted in the sixth round of the 2009 NFL Draft by the Cowboys. Was the 15th tight end selected in that draft. Notable players drafted after Phillips: CB Captain Munnerlyn, LB Moise Fokou DT Ricky Jean0Francois, RB LaRod Stephens-Howling, WR Julian Edelman. Signed to his original rookie season four year contract through 2013.
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