Former Bengal Brandon Bennett is a proven receiver out of the backfield and a versatile special teams performer
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' seemingly endless free agent shopping tour stopped in the Ohio aisle Thursday for a pair of running backs, one each from the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns.
The Bucs, who are approaching 20 signings in just over two weeks of free agency, have finalized contracts with seventh-year halfback Brandon Bennett and fifth-year man Jamel White. Bennett became an unrestricted free agent on March 3 after six seasons in Cincinnati; White played four seasons for the Browns but was released two weeks ago.
As is team policy, terms of the contracts were not disclosed.
Bennett (5-11, 220) is a solidly-built back with good burst, plus an outstanding special teams player. White (5-9, 211) runs with a low center of gravity and can also get upfield quickly. The two former AFC North backs give the Bucs a big shot of depth at a position that had been depleted by free agency, with Thomas Jones bolting for the Chicago Bears and Aaron Stecker leaving for New Orleans.
"We have added two versatile and productive players that will help both our offensive and special teams units," said Head Coach Jon Gruden. "They both have proved to be threats out of the backfield during their careers."
Bennett's career statistics include 306 carries for 1,127 yards (3.7 avg.) and five touchdowns, 90 receptions for 756 yards and one touchdown, 109 kickoff returns for 2,498 yards (22.9 avg.) and one touchdown and 30 special teams tackles. He has played in 74 games with two starts.
Tampa Bay is the second NFL team for Bennett, who persevered through four NFL training camps before sticking with the Bengals in 1998. He originally entered the league as an undrafted free agent with Cincinnati in 1995, though he finished that year on Chicago's practice squad. He went to camp with Chicago the following year but ended up on Miami's practice squad, then the active roster for the season finale. In 1997, the Dolphins took Bennett to camp but did not keep him on the active roster.
Bennett's perseverance paid off in 1998 when he returned to the Bengals, led the team in rushing during the preseason and earned a place on the 53-man roster. As Corey Dillon's backup, he carried 77 times for 243 yards and two touchdowns and caught eight passes for 153 yards, including 119 receiving yards in his one start of the season, at Pittsburgh.
A knee injury erased Bennett's 1999 campaign, but he came back in 2000 to put up very similar numbers to those of his first season – 324 rushing yards, three touchdowns and 19 receptions for 168 yards. After yet another season of almost the same contribution in 2001 (232 rushing yards, 20 receptions for 150 yards), Bennett added kickoff return duties to his plate in 2002 and had a superb season on special teams. In addition to his 25.1-yard average and one touchdown returning kicks, he also covered kicks well, contributing 15 special teams tackles.
Last year, Bennett had fewer carries (56 for 173 yards) with the emergence of running back Rudi Johnson, but he led Bengal backs with 25 receptions for 176 yards and a touchdown (all career highs) and held onto the kickoff return job, averaging 21.6 yards on 53 runbacks.
As a collegian, Bennett led South Carolina in rushing for four straight seasons and left as the school's all-time receptions leader among running backs. He hails from Taylors, South Carolina.
White has been productive in various starting stints for the Cleveland Browns. Most recently, he started the final three games of 2003 after a breakout, 100-yard game against St. Louis on December 8. In White's last four games as a Brown, he carried the ball 49 times for 220 yards (4.5 avg.) and a touchdown and added eight receptions for 60 yards.
In his four seasons in Cleveland overall, White produced 1,324 yards and nine touchdowns on 349 carries (3.8 avg.). He also caught 166 passes for 1,273 yards and two scores and averaged 20.5 yards per runback on 56 kickoff returns.
The Browns drafted four running backs in the last four years, each in the fourth round or higher – in order, Travis Prentice, James Jackson, William Green and Lee Suggs. Still, White, who entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent with the Colts in 2000 and later joined Cleveland off waivers, kept his roster spot and remained an active part of the Browns' backfield rotation.
White is an accomplished receiver, with a career high of 63 receptions in 2002. Used largely as a third-down back for the first three months of the 2003 season, he added 46 receptions for 303 yards and a touchdown to his 266 rushing yards.
White's top season came in 2002, when he set career highs in rushing yards (470), yards per carry (4.4), receptions (63) and receiving yards (452). Those numbers were a modest increase from 2001, in which he ran for 443 yards and caught 44 passes for 418 yards. His six overall touchdowns in '01 (five rushing, one receiving) remain a career best.
As a rookie in 2000, White produced 145 yards on 47 carries and added 13 receptions for 100 yards. He also did the majority of his career kickoff return work that year, bringing back 43 kicks for 935 yards, an average of 21.7 yards per return.
The Colts waived White on August 27 of that year, hoping to put him on their practice squad. Instead, the Browns snapped up the rookie from South Dakota and put him on their active roster.
White played only two seasons at South Dakota, after spending two junior college seasons as a receiver and defensive back, but broke 11 school records, including the single-season mark of 1,807 rushing yards in his senior campaign. He hails from Los Angeles, California.