The Chicago Bears got a major coup on the first day of free agency, nabbing former New York Giant Martellus Bennett, a move that should make fans feel like Bennett does about a certain kind of breakfast cereal.
While most fans have been focusing on what a tight end could add to the Bears passing game, that may not be where Bennett makes the biggest impact for the Bears. Although he's a capable receiver, it his blocking that could help the Bears the most.
With a bigger load in the receiving game, Bennett had a down year as a blocker in 2012-13, but he still ranked 13th at Pro Football Focus. That comes after he ranked second in 2011, fourth in 2010 and fifth in 2009.
The Bears' new tight end isn't just very good at blocking—it's something he takes pride in.
"I told them I like to block power. I was talking to Krome (offensive coordinator/line coach Aaron Kromer), he was talking about running plays, I like to block those plays, you don't have to put me on the back side," he said in an interview on the Chicago Bears team website.
Bennett's blocking ability opened quite a few running lanes for the Giants last season. In this clip, you can see him seal off a defender, allowing Ahmad Bradshaw to get to the second level for a big gain.
The Giants' most impressive win came against the San Francisco 49ers, when they ran for 149 yards. Here are examples of Bennett stone-walling the 49ers linebackers in that game to open holes for Bradshaw.
Fans expecting a Chicago version of Jimmy Graham will be disappointed. Bennett showed the ability to be a solid receiver last season and has potential to provide much more in that aspect. After watching the tape on Bennett, he reminded me of a combination of Matt Spaeth and Jermichael Finley.
Last season, Bennett did most of his damage less than 10 yards down the field. According to PFF, 42 of Bennett's 55 catches came on throws under 10 yards.
Bennett has excellent physical skills and showed flashes of being a great receiver. He showed the ability to run crisp routes and attack the ball in the air. He also showed good body control on plays down the sideline and the ability to work the middle of the field.
What he lacked, it seemed, were consistency and concentration.
His drop rate was 19th in the league, according to PFF. Still far better than Kellen Davis—who was second-to-last. At least three of Bennett's drops took touchdowns off the board, including this one against Tampa Bay.
Despite his speed, he also doesn't provide much after the catch. His 3.8 YAC average was tied for 40th in the NFL, although still better than Tony Gonzalez, Jason Witten and Jimmy Graham, according to PFF.
Being paired with coach Marc Trestman should help Bennett realize his potential as a receiver.
In Trestman's first season as the offensive coordinator in 1995, Brent Jones made the Pro Bowl and had the second most catches of his career with 60. In the next season, the team got 59 catches out of their tight ends as Jones caught 33 passes and Ted Popson added 26.
In Trestman's eight seasons as an offensive coordinator, primary tight ends have averaged nearly 42 catches per season. That seems like a relatively low number, but he didn't have much to work with in Arizona or Oakland. Five tight ends—Johnny McWilliams, Terry Hardy, Roland Williams, Doug Jolley and Teyo Johnson—had the most productive seasons of their career with Trestman calling plays.
Bennett's ability to block and pose a threat as a receiver could allow the Bears to use Evan Rodriguez like the New England Patriots use Aaron Hernandez, a player he compared himself to when the Bears drafted him.
Because Bennett is an excellent blocker, the Bears will be a threat to run the ball whenever he is on the field. If paired with Rodriguez, one of them would likely be matched up with a linebacker when they pass, a mismatch the Bears could take advantage of.
Prior to the Bears signing Bennett, I ranked him as the second best tight end available behind Anthony Fasano. A big part of my concern was the attitude problems that prevented Bennett from being as productive as he could have been with the Dallas Cowboys.
It was an issue GM Phil Emery mentioned when he introduced Bennett and new left tackle Jermon Bushrod. He pointed out the Bears have two coaches—special teams coach Joe DeCamillis and running backs coach Skip Peete—who were with Bennett in Dallas and could attest to his growth as a person.
Bennett also spoke about this issue when he was introduced to the Chicago media.
"It's no secret I struggled early in my career, but it wasn't because of ability or being able to make plays, it was more attitude," Bennett said. "I think I never accepted my role in Dallas. I was always fighting with what my role was instead of just accepting it."
Just his willingness to talk about his issues alone is evidence of maturity. If he continues to keep a level head and lays off the Captain Crunch with extra sugar, Bears fans will be the ones writing songs about him.