Martellus Bennett: Dallas Cowboys' Offensive Breakout Player Of The Year
For those of you who don't know, one can't simply introduce a personality or life force as vibrant and unique as Martellus Bennett with just any type of vanilla introduction.
That is why, after cogitating on the subject much longer than I probably should have, I decided the most fitting way to introduce the wider Bleacher Report community to the phenomenon known as Marty B. would be with the lyrics of one of the greatest musical groups of the past few decades.
A group that has released no less than 10 albums, has worked on countless television and movie projects, and has even taken home an Oscar.
Yes folks, I can think of no better way to eulogize the up-and-coming talent that is Martellus Bennett than with an album title of a group containing wordsmiths the likes of which have not graced the face of the planet since The Bard himself.
I am, of course, referring to the pride of Memphis, TN, Three 6 Mafia, who titled their acclaimed 2005 release The Most Known Unknown.
While the import of such a poignant title is knee-weakening for most, thankfully Juicy J felt the need to elaborate further on the album's intro by explaining:
A lotta people question the title they wanna know what it means. The Most Known Unknowns means that Three 6 Mafia is known, but at the same time they unknown know what I'm sayin?
That, my friends, is the best way I can think to describe second year Dallas Cowboys Tight End Martellus Bennett: The Most Known Unknown.
Despite what he produced on the field as a rookie, Martellus Bennett, if known by fellow NFC East or NFL fans at all, is probably best recognized for his various off-season You Tube hi-jinxes, which include regrettable forays into both rap and "athletic" event coordination for lack of a better term.
Admittedly, Martellus Bennett's name might not be as unfamiliar as other young Cowboys jockeying for a spot on the roster. However, I believe he falls firmly into the aforementioned Most Known Unknown category in that, despite his You Tube fame, most non-Cowboys fans can't even mentally summon a reception Martellus Bennett made last year.
That factor alone will be the most crucial in Bennett's breakout season, because a closer look at both his physical skills and his 2008 production will demonstrate that Martellus Bennett is on the fast track to resounding success with the Dallas Cowboys.
Standing at an impressive 6'6", 265 lbs., Martellus Bennett strikes an imposing and intimidating figure no matter where he lines up on the field.
In fact, he used that frame to play 2 full seasons of basketball at Texas A&M before quitting to focus solely on the gridiron.
As any football scout will concede, basketball and football surprisingly have a lot of transferable skills (for tight ends especially) because both sports demand high levels of hand-eye coordination and complicated footwork, exhibit A of course being Antonio Gates, a Pro Bowl tight end who didn't play a single down of NCAA football but rather devoted his entire career at Kent State to playing basketball.
The scouting report on Bennett composed by Scouts, Inc. before Bennett's rookie year points out how the athleticism he gained on the court has carried over onto the football field, where Bennett has already learned to use his size and athleticism to his advantage.
As a blocker, Martellus Bennett could be classified as above average.
There is obviously much the tight end, being so young, still has to learn about the run game in the NFL. However, scouts praise his ability to get under the pads opposing linebackers and defensive ends despite being so tall, which is probably the hardest part about run blocking for tall, lanky tight ends such as Bennett.
Scouts are also extremely impressed with Bennett's motor in the run game, praising his ability to sustain blocks and keep his feet running until he hears the whistle.
The above positives are definitely steps in the right direction in the run game, but it is in the pass game where Martellus Bennett will make the largest impact in 2009.
Scouts classify his speed as "above average," but fast enough to stretch the seams in the defense and put pressure on linebackers and safeties in the middle of the field. He combines this speed with great body control and the ability to catch the ball with his hands away from his body when balls are thrown outside his frame.
Whether or not a receiver catches the ball away from his body or not is a small yet very crucial distinction. When a receiver doesn't have confidence in their hands, they often try to let the ball come to them and "trap" it against their chest pads.
This is problematic for two reasons.
Primarily, most NFL quarterbacks have arms like Howitzer cannons, and there is no guarantee that even the savviest NFL wide receiver will be able to control a ball thrown with that force as it is ricocheting between his sternum and forearms at 6,000 repetitions a second.
Anybody who has watched T.O. play for any extended period of time will gladly point out that this is the main driver behind the large number of balls T.O. drops each season. He too often lets balls he cannot control get into his chestpad and ends up putting on the ground.
Also, even if the receiver has become fairly skilled at wrangling in balls by trapping them against his breastplate, it takes longer to secure a ball trying to trap it than if the ball was caught with the receiver's hands extended away from his body.
In other words, if a receiver (or tight end in this case) is crushed immediately after they catch the ball, they will have a much greater chance at holding onto the ball if they have the ball secured the second it hits their hands rather than having the ball bouncing between their chest plate and forearms.
Martellus Bennett is confident in his hands, and catches the ball away from his body whenever possible, which led Scouts Inc. to extol his ability to catch the ball in traffic by using his huge frame to shield impinging defenders.
These skills, combined with Bennett's leaping ability, make him a phenomenal red zone option on jump balls against small and undersized defensive backs when he lines up in the slot, a place where Bennett lined up frequently in college and already feels comfortable.
Even at this young age, the most impressive thing about Martellus Bennett is how much further he is along mentally than most rookie receivers.
Scouts, Inc. goes out of its way to laud Bennett's ability to release against NFL linebackers trying to jam him at the line, as well as his uncanny ability to read defenses on the run and find the seams to get open.
Pad level in the passing game is just as crucial as it is in the run game, and, more often than not, young, lanky tight ends often struggle keeping their pads low when they release from the line against NFL linebackers.
Since all contact on receivers is allowed within the first 5 yards, if a tall and lanky young tight end like Bennett doesn't stay low enough on his release, he ends up getting knocked on his tail by the likes of 6'1" Ray Lewis or 6'1" Patrick Willis as they put their helmets into his armpit as he tries to run around them.
Bennett has already learned this necessity, and the significance of mastering the ability to release against must stronger and faster NFL linebackers at this young of an age cannot be overstated.
As I have mentioned in previous articles, oftentimes an NFL receiver is given multiple routes on the same play, and doesn't decide on which of the routes he is running until halfway through the play, when he is able to read and react to the rotations of the defense.
This can often be the toughest part for young wide receivers for a few reasons.
NFL defenses don't stop moving and shifting until literally right before the snap, making pre-snap diagnoses of defensive locations fairly daunting.
Also, NFL defenders are so much faster than defenders in college that route running decisions have to be made in a much more contracted time frame than they had to in college.
The fact that Bennett, according to Scout's Inc., already has a great feel for reading NFL defenses and finding seams to get open means he can spend a lot more time focusing on the physical minutiae of the NFL game earlier than most young players because of his inherent feel for reading defenses.
Clearly, Bennett has the physical tools to succeed in the NFL, and Bennett's body of work during his rookie season is indicative of the promise demonstrated in his scouting report.
In 2008, Bennett recorded 20 catches for 283 yards and 4 touchdowns.
Those numbers are not significant on an aggregate basis, but a deeper dive elucidates the true significance of those numbers.
In 2008, Martellus Bennett caught a touchdown on 20% of his passes, speaking to his value in the red zone.
To put that in perspective, Jason Witten caught 4 touchdowns in 81 reception, while Bennett caught 4 touchdowns in a mere 20.
Bennett also averaged 14.2 yards per reception in 2008, a number that ranked third among all tight ends in the NFL.
All of these numbers were put up in a year where Tony Romo missed three games, and Bennett was probably anywhere from the 3rd to 5th option on every single pass play, and not even the starter at his position.
On any given pass play in 2008, chances are Bennett was behind T.O., Jason Witten, Roy Williams, and any running back that happened to be in the play as a check down option.
That fact alone, perhaps, is the most intriguing when trying to prognosticate Bennett's 2009 performance, because while not being a starter would seem to be a detrimental factor to Bennett, it will in fact be the single most important determinant of his breakout 2009 campaign.
Even with T.O. gone, Tony Romo still has a plethora of options in the passing game.
From Roy Williams to Jason Witten to Patrick Crayton to whatever young wide receiver prevails in the Hurd-Austin-Stanback wide receiver battle, on most plays Martellus will be at best a tertiary concern for most opposing defenses.
And as has been demonstrated above, Martellus Bennett has the size and skills that are by no means indicative of a tertiary option on any pass play on any team in this league.
Not only will defenses be concerned with the other options in the passing game before they even think of dealing with Bennett, the affluence of talent the Cowboys have in the backfield should serve to further exacerbate the amount of pressure Bennett is able to put on opposing defenses in 2009.
Bennett's ability to release against NFL linebackers on passing plays has already been illustrated. However, if Jason Garrett is worth the money he is being paid, he will find an intuitive and effective method of deployment for the three talented running backs he has at his disposal.
If used effectively, the punishing triumvirate of running backs in Dallas should serve to gain some yards early against opposing defenses, which will make the defense that much more vulnerable to play action as the game progresses.
Since linebackers must guard against the run before they worry about the pass, more often than not a linebacker's first step will be towards the line of scrimmage, giving the linebacker momentum to keep running towards the line if the ball is handed to the running back.
It is this first step that often gets linebackers in trouble when play action is run, for if the backers do not recognize the play action fast enough they could easily loose a step or two on whatever back or tight end they are responsible for covering.
Ordinarily, this wouldn't be a big deal, as most linebackers are saved by a safety hanging over the top when they are burned by tight ends on play action.
Again, I must draw attention to the fact that Martellus is the second tight end in the Cowboys offense while possessing the receiving capabilities of a primary receiving option.
An opposing defense, if they do have safety help on play action, will most likely be directing their deep attention to either Roy Williams or Jason Witten, preferring to deal with the lesser of three evils in Martellus Bennett.
Therefore, if Jason Garrett can establish the running game early and set up the play action pass, Martellus' speed up the seams and his ability to effectively release against jamming NFL linebackers should leave him wide open in the soft spot the defense inadvertently leaves open as they try to take away Roy Williams and Jason Witten.
If Jason Garrett can put this amalgamation of talent together in a productive way, we could see the birth of the first permanent two-tight end system that the NFL has ever seen.
Imagine the competitive advantage this could provide, an advantage that could absolutely be leveraged in conjunction with the run game in a way equally as revolutionary as the Wild Cat offense popularized by Miami this year.
(A quick side note: Bennett has already coined a nickname for himself and Witten: "Beans and Rice," a moniker referring both to the tight ends' skin color, as well as to the relative "spice" of their opposing personalities.)
At the end of the day, Martellus Bennett, off season ridiculousness aside, has enough natural talent and size to become an extremely successful NFL tight end, one that can succeed and be productive in a second string role that compliments Jason Witten in two tight end formations in a way most NFL defenses have never experienced before.
Bennett's 2008 numbers absolutely foreshadow the unique threat he can pose to defenses that come to Dallas for seasons to come. Hopefully this article will now lend you some football perspective with which to judge Marty B's You Tube clips with.
However if there is one thought I can leave you with regarding Martellus Bennett it would be this: whether before this season he was known or unknown to you, I guarantee the production he puts up in the first half of the 2009 season will far outpace the You Tube attention he received this offseason.
If Martellus was the most Known Unknown before the season, I'm not quite sure what crunk nickname I could possibly create that would be simultaneously as telling and fitting.
However, I think I'll concern myself more to tracking Bennett's successes on the field in 2009.
I have Juicy J on retainer until Friday if I need a better nickname before then.
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