[EDITOR'S NOTE: This post comes from Gail Bahr, an occasional contributor to ESPN, a Giants fan and a friend of Big Blue View. Gail sat down one-on-one with Martellus Bennett during training camp in Albany.]
New York Giants’ tight end Martellus Bennett is ready.
In fact, he’s more than ready.
After attending Taylor High School in Alief, Texas, where he was a consensus prep All-American selection, Bennett continued to impress at Texas A&M by tying the school career record for receptions and establishing new school career records for receiving yards and receptions in consecutive games.
Meanwhile, NFL scouts were watching and waiting and, when Bennett declared his eligibility for the draft following his junior season, he was selected in the second round of the 2008 NFL Draft by the Dallas Cowboys.
It was then that things began to go awry.
Though it seemed certain that Bennett would be a featured player in the Cowboys scheme, with Jason Witten, an established Pro Bowl tight end already on Dallas’ roster, Bennett found it difficult to insert himself into the starting line-up.
"Romo rightfully has great chemistry with Witten because he’s an awesome tight end and earned all the catches he got," Bennett said.
In Dallas’ offensive scheme one tight end, Witten, played on passing downs so Bennett usually only took the field on running downs, giving him scant opportunity to improve his receiving skills or even to establish a solid working relationship with Romo. And with only four touchdowns and 85 receptions in his four years with Dallas, Bennett acknowledged that, while having the opportunity to learn behind a Pro Bowler was helpful, it wasn’t the ideal situation for
Giants tight ends coach Mike Pope agreed.
"I do know that Dallas has a great player in Witten, so he (Bennett) never really got the opportunity to be the guy," Pope said. "I told him if he came here, now you have a chance to not be Jason Witten Jr. anymore."
That was all Bennett need to hear, later saying that he was so impressed by Coach Pope that he considered asking Pope to marry him.
So now, after waiting four long, unhappy years, Bennett has the opportunity to show that he’s a complete tight end, one who can block and catch.
One who is worthy of being "the guy."
"Now it’s time for me to start building my own legacy and I believe that this is the best place for me to be," Bennett said. "But it’s not something that I’m taking for granted. I’m very grateful to have this opportunity and I’m working hard to be the guy."
Having already established at Dallas that he’s a proficient motion and in-line blocker, Bennett admitted that he still has a lot to learn with his new team. The Giants’ terminology is vastly different than Dallas’ and he also feels that he needs to become more comfortable running routes.
"I’m super comfortable blocking though there’s still always something I’m working on, like (keeping) hands inside and better footwork," Bennett said. "Blocking is mostly what I did at Dallas but I’m not yet as comfortable running routes. It wasn’t my role to run so many routes or to be the guy but I am fast and very athletic so I can run good routes."
Head coach Tom Coughlin expressed optimism in Bennett’s ability.
"I think he’ll be a guy who people have trouble covering," Coughlin said.
"He’s a good blocker," Coach Pope added. "We did a good job in that selection I believe…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."
But Bennett believes that he’s a quick learner and will master the intricacies of the Giants’ system quickly and, when he does, for the first time in his career he will finally be a complete tight end, one equally proficient blocking or catching the ball.
"A lot of tight ends get credit for just catching now but the tight ends who can do both are the ones who define the position," Bennett explained. "And they’re becoming hard to find."
Coach Pope was also pleased at how quickly Bennett embraced the Giants team concept and his role in the system.
"He’s been helpful in the meetings, Pope said. "He’s talked to the young players… he’s bought into our system."
Bennett confirmed that he’s "all in," a team-first player, a concept the coaches have repeatedly stressed.
"It’s a great relationship that we’re developing," Bennett said. "I think he (Pope) wants me to be the best player I can possibly be and I’m trying to be great myself."
Despite the confidence in him that his coaches and teammates have expressed, Bennett knows he still has to demonstrate that he is indeed "the guy" on the field. But he believes he has already established a comfort level with quarterback Eli Manning that was absent in Dallas.
"Eli tells you exactly what he wants. It’s not like when your wife asks you whether you want chicken or steak for dinner," Bennett laughed. "There’s a land mine there."
Aside from his expanded role with the Giants, if Bennett needed yet more reasons to embrace his move to New York, he found them in the vast array of New York City museums.
An avid abstract painter and photographer, Bennett anticipates exploring all the New York City museums in his admittedly limited free time.
"People think I’m some idiot running around playing football," Bennett said somewhat ruefully, "but they don’t realize how smart I am."
Bennett added that he hasn’t had much free time yet to begin his explorations as he spent the summer working out and adding strength in preparation for his increased role with the Giants.
And now he’s ready for the season to begin.
"I’m up to 278 pounds now and am stronger and sexier this year, "Bennett concluded with a laugh.