FOXBORO – A tight end so tall, so loose and so strong. Is there anything, ANYTHING Marty B. can do wrong?
Hard to say, hard to know. He just got here, you know.
But on a day void of Gronk, when Gronk’s absence caused chatter, Marty B was the one that seemed mostly to matter.
OK, enough of the Seussian rhyming. I just caught the rhythm of it when I was looking up a quote from Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett who – for the first time in New England Patriots history – strung quotes from Dr. Seuss and Oscar Wilde back-to-back.
The question that touched off Bennett’s reply had to do with the big personality Bennett brought with him from Chicago. I asked Bennett, who was traded here in March, how well he’s melded with everyone else in New England. I wondered if he’s felt able to be fully himself.
“That’s the only person (I can be),” said Bennett. “Dr. Seuss said no one can be youer than you. Oscar Wilde said, ‘Be yourself because everyone else is taken.’ So I only can be one person, so I just continue to try to be who I am and don’t change that. I’m a little chameleon. I fit in wherever I am. When you’re authentic, people appreciate that.”
Makes sense. All except the “little” part. Bennett’s a huge human and – at this Gronk-free minicamp practice – it was Bennett that got unfettered attention from Tom Brady on a couple of occasions. It was similar to the operation Brady ran in the past with Randy Moss when he and Moss split off to an end zone and worked on getting each other’s rhythms down.
Asked about the exercise, Bennett said, “Really just trying to get on the same page with Tom and everybody else. How he wants me to run routes, the way he throws the ball, timing everything out. Some things I do differently than other players—lots of communication, making sure I can do my job.
“We talk all the time, in the locker room, in the meetings,” Bennett added. “I want to know what he wants, because the best place to be is where the quarterback wants you to be. I’m constantly peppering him with questions.”
Bennett, 29, circled back to themes of learning and intelligence a few times during his post-practice session with media.
For instance: “I don’t make mental mistakes. I’m smarter than I look. I just look like this.”
And: “I’m a voracious reader. I’m always studying. I still take classes here and there online. My coach, coach (Brian Daboll) does a great job laying everything out. And I study a lot.”
As well as: “The only way to play is to know what to do.”
Finally: “It’s just like the student-to-teacher ratio. When it’s lower, you have a better chance of learning the material.”
On that last one, Bennett was replying to a question about working solo with Brady.
The projection of course is that – once the season begins – Bennett and Gronk will form a tandem of two ridiculously athletic and talented players working with noted whip-cracker and perfectionist Brady.
I asked Bennett if he’s yet reached his potential since coming into the league in 2008 as a second-round pick by Dallas.
“I think football is a sport where you can never truly reach your potential,” he explained. “It’s very aggravating because there’s always something little that you can do better. I was fortunate to play with Jason Witten and Terrell Owens early in my career, and the way they worked and constantly tried to get better—find one thing to get better (at)—I think you can never truly be all you can be because there’s always something you can do better.”
In the two practices we’ve seen this offseason, Bennett’s been impossible to miss in red zone drills. More than once, he’s been locked in battle with safety Patrick Chung.
“It’s been fun,” he said. “I love the guys. The guys are awesome. Great group of guys to be around. It’s been a lot of fun just competing every day. Whether it’s the weight room or the practice field, we just complete in everything we do. I try to make sure they know I can win a lot of those 1-on-1s and those battles.”
They’ve been tight battles though, right?
“They’re competitive, I don’t know if they’re tight,” smiled Bennett. “No, no, guys do a great job out here. All the battles are good. I have a lot of battles with Patrick (Chung). We just try to make each other better players.”
Having played in Dallas, Chicago and for the Giants, Bennett’s no stranger to bold fanbases and big media contingents. He’s getting more of the same here in New England.
“A lot of fans were hitting me on Instagram (with praise) and stuff like that,” Bennett said. “I’m like ‘it’s just OTAs.’ Every day you’re just trying to work to get better. Right now, the plays in the season are made during the summer. So whether it’s workouts away from here or workouts with the team, that’s when you train to make plays during the season. And being a starter, OTAs doesn’t really mean anything. It’s just that you’re constantly working and trying to be the best player you can be every single day.”
This should be a fascinating year for Bennett, who caught 210 passes from 2012-14 and – in 11 games – still had 53 in 2015. Will being in an offense with a tight end like Gronk be something Bennett warms to or bristles at? Will he put up the numbers he’s accustomed to? This being the final year of his contract, has he started thinking of where he’ll be nine months from now when free agency begins?
“I feel like every year is the last year of my contract,” he replied. “That’s just how I live. I’m not really concerned about it. I haven’t even thought about it, actually, until you just told me.”
Oh. The thinks you can think. (That’s Seuss too).
Tom E. Curran can be followed on Twitter: @tomecurran