Wednesday, March 13, 2013
Chicago excites Martellus Bennett
By Michael C. Wright
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Martellus Bennett figures that with his presence in the offense, Brandon Marshall "knows he's gonna lose at least four or five balls a year," but the receiver's unselfishness is part of what drew the tight end to the Chicago Bears in the first place.
During his introductory news conference Wednesday at the Walter Payton Center, Bennett called Marshall "a mentor" and "one of the reasons I've been able to take the strides in my career that I have." Bennett also expressed excitement about the prospect of playing with the receiver, whom he often refers to as a big brother.
Coming off a breakout 2012 season with the New York Giants in which he caught a career-high 55 passes for 626 yards and five touchdowns, Bennett signed a four-year, $20 million contract Tuesday. That breakout year came after a mostly rocky four-year stint with the Dallas Cowboys, who selected him in the second round of the 2008 draft.
"It seems that he put the foot to the gas pedal, all the way down to the floor," said Bears general manager Phil Emery, who also called the tight end's growth "a transformation." "He stepped up. Each and every NFL city provides its own unique circumstances. New York, much like Chicago, is a tough, demanding town. They want a winner. There's a lot of pressure on players to produce at a high level. He did that. He matured on the field. He matured off the field."
Bennett credited Marshall with some of that growth, whether it came from "watching his tapes, asking him how he does things, and what I need to do better, what I'm eating, he's a total health nut. He's a guy I look up to for the way he plays and the type of person that he is. So I've been talking to him for a couple of years. I've been in the league for six years. I've probably been talking to Brandon for about four years. He's been a good person to have in my life on and off the field. After I heard I was getting a chance to play with him, I felt like he's the guy who always wants to win, is a champion. Those kinds of guys help you get better. So he expressed his need to want to get better. I think he's gonna help me take my game to another level, which is a reason why I came here."
Bennett and Marshall have the same agent, Kennard McGuire. They also share a knack for turning a run-of-the-mill interview into a show. Bennett said the Bears' coaching staff wants "to add some elements of what the (New Orleans) Saintss did last year with Jimmy Graham," and praised quarterback Jay Cutler for publicly saying he'd like to throw more passes to the tight end.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Bears targeted a tight end on fewer passes (66) than any other team in the NFC last season and finished with the fewest receptions (33) in the league from the position, which likely is part of the reason the team cut ties Wednesday with Kellen Davis and Matt Spaeth.
"I just think I bring some elements to the game that -- not to put anyone down -- but I think my level of play is totally different than the guys they had here in the past," Bennett said. "There are huge expectations for me. So anytime a team has that, an organization has expectations for you, when you're a real man you just live up to it."
Bennett definitely made good on his reputation for providing comic relief during interviews. Asked about his nickname "Black Unicorn," Bennett told the story of how it came to be.
"I have several nicknames I go by," he said. "The Black Unicorn is just the one that seems to stick the longest. Basically, black unicorns are rare. Anytime you see a picture like at school, when you get the folders, they all have the white unicorn on there. So being African-American, I just thought it would be clever to be the Black Unicorn.
"I mean, unicorns are cool. But I prefer dinosaurs, honestly. One day, I had black tights on and I was running down the field and I just felt like a unicorn. I didn't feel like a horse. I felt like a unicorn. So I just say the Black Unicorn. There was nothing special about it. It was just spur of the moment. I like it, though. I like the nickname. It's like the Black Mamba for Kobe (Bryant). The Black Unicorn. It's magical. I enjoy magic. I'm a Harry Potter fan."
He's also potentially a weapon the Bears haven't been able to utilize successfully at the position since Greg Olsen averaged nearly 50 catches per season during his tenure with the club. Bennett admitted that nobody "really knows what's going to happen to the offense," under new coach Marc Trestman.
"Really I just wanted to be the guy in a long-term situation. So that's the biggest thing. Really I just wanted the opportunity to be used to the best of my ability and all my potential," Bennett said. "I think that's something they're gonna let me do here. I've talked to all the coaches and they have huge plans for me. I like anybody that has huge plans for me. I think everybody here is a dreamer, and I'm a huge dreamer. It'll be good to share our dreams together."