At a time when the coaching staff is focused on the proper way to reduce the roster to 53 players, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers may have actually gotten a little deeper on Thursday morning.
Third-year wide receiver Arrelious Benn, who suffered a knee injury in a freak collision during the very first practice of training camp, was back on the field on Thursday, running routes with the rest of the Bucs' wideouts. Benn missed all four preseason games but is hoping to be ready for the regular-season opener against the Carolina Panthers on September 9.
Rejoining his teammates in action on Thursday was obviously an important step for him physically, but it also gave him a welcome mental boost.
"It was a chance to get back out there in the swing of things," said Benn. "I kind of was a little down on myself after I got hurt, but I'm looking at it on a positive note. You know, I wasn't out there in camp and I was really looking forward to it because this is my first offseason that I was fully healthy. But it's all about bouncing back and how your respond and I feel good now.
"My biggest thing was just to stay in it mentally, stay in the playbook. I didn't think anybody was looking at me in a negative light, but I just had to keep working hard and everything else would take care of itself."
For some players, missing all of camp and the preseason would raise the level of difficulty when it comes to making the final cut to the active roster. Fortunately, receivers are a little bit easier to judge without pads and full contact. Certainly, nothing is being handed to Benn, but he impressed Head Coach Greg Schiano and his staff quite thoroughly during the offseason program and thus already has a very solid resume as this critical weekend approaches.
In fact, Schiano is clearly looking forward to getting Benn back into the mix for the regular season.
"We're fortunate that a guy like Rejus is, I think, a top-flight receiver, or is going to be, and yet he's a really good [special] teams player," said the coach. "So he's a valuable guy and we need to get him back healthy. [He was] out there…he's little by little, inching back, so hopefully he can help us. I don't know, is Week One going to be too soon? We're going to have to see. I hope he's ready, though."
As far as Benn is concerned, that's the plan. There is a giant digital countdown clock to the season opener hanging high on the wall in the Buccaneers' locker room, and while Benn was discussing his return it ticked down under 10 days. That could be his own personal timer as well.
"I'm definitely targeting Week One unless something holds me back," said Benn. "I'm looking forward to preparing for Carolina and going against a division opponent in the season opener."