- Michael C. Wright, ESPN Staff Writer
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BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- For just a split second, it appeared Martellus Bennett would do the right thing.
He turned to walk back to the huddle. Then, all of a sudden Bennett snapped, pushing rookie first-round pick Kyle Fuller, before body slamming him to the ground in a confrontation that required several players to break up, while also causing Bears coach Marc Trestman to end Monday’s training camp practice earlier than scheduled.
“It’s practice,” Bennett said later. “Practice is practice. I know I sound like Allen Iverson right now, but at the end of the day it’s practice. At practice, [expletive] happens.”
Perhaps that’s true. But practice is also where the habits exhibited in games -- such as team discipline -- are born.
Going all the way back to Bennett’s dustup with Lamarr Houston during organized team activities in May, Trestman has made clear on multiple occasions his stance on players fighting at practice. Trestman has called practice skirmishes a safety issue for the players that can lead to on-field discipline problems in games. The coach has also pointed out how such situations take away valuable time that could be otherwise used for repetitions that enable the team to get better.
Bennett’s scrape with Fuller brought to mind all those things.
Not only that, it was totally unnecessary.
The play that led to the fight involved Fuller trying to make a play on a pass thrown to Bennett. As Fuller reached in to strip the ball loose, the rookie grabbed near the chest area of Bennett’s shoulder pads and pulled the tight end down to the ground. Had the play occurred during a game, it would have been totally legal.
So what Bennett did made little sense.
Getting up off the ground, Bennett looked as if he’d brush off the play. He started to walk toward the huddle, and then turned back toward Fulller before going after him.
“Just a football play,” Fuller said. “Stuff like that happens.”
What took place afterward, however, shouldn’t have happened.
What if Bennett’s body slam to Fuller would have left him injured? Remember, the team not only invested a first-round pick in Fuller, but it plans to play the rookie extensively as a major contributor to Chicago’s revamped defense.
In the aftermath of the skirmish, Houston, Matt Forte, and Zach Miller tried to calm down Bennett, who was also yelling at star receiver Brandon Marshall. Several players voiced disgust on the field as the skirmish unfolded. Even offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer walked over to try to calm Bennett.
Trestman declined to divulge whether Bennett would be disciplined for Monday’s altercation.
“I don’t think that’s something I would address here,” Trestman said. “These are brief moments in a lot of really good moments of competition. We address it and we move on. I stopped the practice. I felt that it was time to stop. There were a lot of people who care a lot about this team involved. It was in the best interest of the team to move forward, finish with the walk-throughs and move on to our meetings.”
When asked about a potential fine, Bennett shrugged it off, saying, “I can afford it.”
But the team can’t, as 15-yard penalties and ejections from games ultimately cost clubs valuable wins.
To Bennett’s credit, he hasn’t lost it on the field in a game situation. At the same time, practices are where game habits are formed, and the current roster features 29 impressionable players with one year of experience or fewer.
“You learn from things that happen at practice,” Bennett said. “I’ve never done it in a game. I’ve done it in several practices before now.”
It needs to stop.
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