Consistency is one of the most elusive and desirable traits an NFL player – or even an entire team – can seek to attain.
Minimizing the depths of the inevitable low points of an NFL season, maximizing the highs without losing perspective and generally keeping attitude and performance on an even keel are sure-fire ways to guarantee some measure of success.
For Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Michael Bennett, consistency has been hard to achieve, and often through no fault of his own.
Bennett began his career as an undrafted rookie free agent with the Seattle Seahawks in 2009 before coming to Tampa later that season. After that cross-country move, Bennett has since found a home with the Bucs, settling in as a steady contributor along the defensive front.
The former Texas A&M standout saw action in seven games his rookie season, followed by another 13 games of mostly substitute duty in 2010. The 2011 campaign began brightly for Bennett, but an injury and the emergence of fellow defensive end Da'Quan Bowers saw Bennett's production slow down considerably over the second half of the season.
Consistency, unfortunately, seemed to be just outside of his grasp. But an offseason of hard work has allowed Bennett to start the 2012 campaign on a great note, as he has started all three games and has already tallied three sacks – just one shy of the career-high four quarterback takedowns he rang up last year.
"Over the offseason I worked on improving on my get-off, my pass rush, and just trying to be one of the top defensive ends in the league," Bennett said. "Every day I just worked out hard, two or three workouts a day, just grinding. I got to work out with some of the top pass rushers this offseason, so I had a lot of good training this offseason."
Lineup upheaval all around him hasn't helped . Fellow rising star Gerald McCoy missed all but six games last season due to injury, and the team just lost defensive end Adrian Clayborn for the rest of the 2012 campaign because of a knee ailment. That latest bit of misfortune for the Bucs' D-Line would seem to put more pressure on Bennett, but he says there's no impetus for him to do anything but keep up his current form.
"It's not really an opportunity to step up [in Clayborn's absence]," Bennett said. "We all play the same role in just doing our job as best we can. I'm not trying to do more than I need to do. I'm just trying to continue to do what I've been doing and play my part in the team and grow as a player."
As far as McCoy is concerned, however, Bennett agrees that having his teammate healthy again and producing up to his normal standards has truly allowed the tandem to grow together.
"Last year, before Gerald got hurt, we were off to a great start," Bennett said. "Once Gerald got hurt, we lost that presence. Gerald brings a great inside-out move. He's just relentless in everything he does. With Gerald, he's a key piece of this defense, and he helps me out tremendously. I feed off him, and he feeds off me. I know where he's going to be, and he knows where I'm going to be. So we just consistently work off each other. We spend a lot of time working together, so we're getting after it."
Helping Bennett achieve that consistency he considers so important is a new attitude in the Bucs locker room instilled by Head Coach Greg Schiano and his staff.
"The new attitude is just hard work, dedication, and consistency, and I think that's what we needed as a young team – to be consistent," Bennett said. "A lot of times we play a good game, but we're working on consistency. We've lost these last two games and I think at the end of the year those two games are going to play a pivotal point in the position we're going to be in.
"A lot of people were counting us out, but you've got to look at some of the key things we've done. We should be 3-0 right now with some of the things we did. We've left a lot of plays out there, but as we get older and the season goes on, we're going to capitalize on those plays more consistently."