RB Michael Bennett has blazing speed and fresh legs after being used sparingly in Kansas City the last two seasons
Michael Bennett says his trade to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – one that plunks him down in the middle of a promising playoff hunt and a reshuffled backfield still trying to find its feet – makes him feel like a rookie all over again.
Maybe so, but in a way Bennett's current situation is both better and worse than what an average NFL rookie faces.
On one hand, Bennett has seven years of NFL experience on which to lean, even if none of it is in a system much resembling that of Bucs Head Coach Jon Gruden. On the other hand, he's got four days, not four months, to absorb a new offense before his first game with a new team.
"He's a stranger to our offense right now," said Gruden at the end of Bennett's first day of practice as a Buccaneer. "So what we have to do is teach him a lot of stuff in a short period of time. That's what we're pressing ourselves to do at this point. We're hoping he can come in and help us as soon as possible.
"We're going to find out what he brings. We know that he's got talent. He's obviously had some good seasons in the NFL. He's a guy that has had some experience and does have speed. He's got a lot to learn right now. It's just a matter of rewiring his circuit to be comfortable on how we call plays. That's harder than you think."
Bennett's talents are undisputed, particularly his speed. He says he recently ran a 4.27-second 40-yard dash, and his former Vikings teammate, Chris Hovan, believes Bennett might give noted speedster Joey Galloway a run for his money. But Bennett – refreshingly humble and eager in his first locker-room encounter with his Tampa teammates and the local media – knows that speed needs direction before it will be of any use to the Buccaneers.
"My thing is just to learn off those guys, get in here with my coach and really learn the playbook," he said. "My thing is just [to] continue to progress each and every day, get better, get more familiar with the system and we will see where it goes from there.
"I think this is a great opportunity for me to come in and play, play more than I was playing in Kansas City. Again, I am around a veteran team, a lot of great leadership on and off the field, so I am definitely thrilled to be here."
Can Bennett make an impact on the Bucs' offense as quickly as this weekend in Detroit. It's safe to say that all parties are reserving judgment on that issue until later in the week. Bennett mused that the team might be able to put together a small package of workable plays for him before he has the whole offense internalized. Gruden conceded that possibility, but only to a point, stressing that it was still important to get Bennett up to speed on the whole system in case a bigger role materializes more suddenly.
"If Earnest [Graham] does get tired or does come out of the game for whatever reason early, like we've seen the last couple games here, you might need to have a little bigger package for [Bennett]," said Gruden. "So we've got to prepare him for the big picture and the short term also."
However quickly Bennett advances along the learning curve, Gruden isn't planning to take it easy on him. The newest Buc said he expected to be around an extra four or five hours at the end of the work days this week, and he's probably right.
"You give them a lot so they have a lot to study," said Gruden of indoctrinating a newcomer. "If you give them a little, they have a little to study. So we're going to try to give him a lot to study and a lot to absorb, and go day-by-day in terms of where he is and what we need to work on."
Noting that Bennett, 29, has only 50 carries since the start of the 2006 season, Bucs quarterback Jeff Garcia thinks his fresh legs can be an asset to the offense fairly quickly.
"He has great speed, he has tremendous ability, he showed that in Minnesota," said Garcia, who has had to move the Bucs almost exclusively through the air over the past two weeks. "He's not an old guy, he hasn't been through years of being beat up, so hopefully he can step in. The main thing for him is to mentally grasp what we are trying to do, to understand what we do as an offense, understand terminology, understand schemes. Once he gets comfortable with some of that, I think he can make an impact on our team."
In addition to running back Michael Pittman, who is in the early stages of his recovery from a severe ankle sprain suffered in Indianapolis in Week Five, three other Buccaneer players were held out of practice on Wednesday.
Two of those three – defensive end Patrick Chukwurah and tight end Alex Smith – were the Buccaneers' newest injury concerns after the team's win over Tennessee on Sunday. The third, cornerback Brian Kelly, continues to battle a groin strain that has forced him to miss a majority of the Bucs' first six games.
Chukwurah sustained a shoulder injury against the Titans while Smith suffered a sprained ankle. Though Gruden indicated on Monday that Smith's injury wasn't nearly as severe as Pittman's, the Bucs' starting tight end is obviously a question mark for Sunday's game at Detroit.
Defensive end Greg Spires was limited during practice on Wednesday due to an ankle injury; he, too, has been fighting the same ailment for several weeks. Wide receiver Ike Hilliard was listed on the injury report with a shoulder issue, but he participated fully in practice.
The Lions' injury report included just one player who was held out of practice on Wednesday: cornerback Stanley Wilson, who has a groin injury. Tight end Sean McHugh and cornerback Keith Smith were limited during practice due to hand and ankle injuries, respectively. Wilson and McHugh are listed as starters on Detroit's depth chart and Smith is the team leader this season with two interceptions.
Practice Squad Switch
After bringing rookie running back Kenneth Darby back to the practice squad on Tuesday, the Bucs swapped out one more spot on that eight-man unit on Wednesday.
New to the practice squad is rookie defensive end Marquies Gunn, formerly of the New York Giants. To make room for Gunn, the team released rookie FB Byron Storer.
Gunn, (6-4, 264) was a standout at Auburn before signing with the New York Giants as an undrafted free agent in May. He played in 46 games with 23 starts at Auburn, recording 96 tackles, 12 sacks and six passes defensed. He hails from Alexander City, Alabama.
Storer was an undrafted rookie signee, too, joining the Buccaneers this spring out of Cal. He spent the first six weeks of this season on Tampa Bay's practice squad.