Martellus Bennett: 'I'm a little chameleon. I fit in wherever I am'

Martellus Bennett: 'I'm a little chameleon. I fit in wherever I am'

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

Don't pigeonhole me: How will Adrian Clayborn fit into the Patriots defense?

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Don't pigeonhole me: How will Adrian Clayborn fit into the Patriots defense?

Looking for a two-word answer from Bill Belichick during a press conference? Ask him how a new addition to the roster might fit into the Patriots scheme. 

"We'll see," is Belichick's typical reply in those situations. 


We point that out here because it's hard to know exactly what any new player's role will be with the Patriots, particularly for an edge player like Adrian Clayborn. That spot in Belichick's defense can take on a variety of roles, from pass-rusher, to edge-setter, to coverage player. 

But we can take an educated guess as to how Clayborn will fit in the Patriots defense, based on what we know. That's what the Patriots did when they signed him. They saw certain skills. They saw Clayborn perform in certain situations. They made their projection. 

There's always the chance Clayborn asserts himself in a way that wasn't expected. Or maybe the way he fits with his new teammates will open his coaches' eyes in ways they weren't anticipating. But at this point, as is the case with every new addition, they're hypothesizing. So we will too. 

AGAINST THE PASS: Clayborn was, for the vast majority of his snaps, a pass-rusher for the Falcons last year. He played 631 snaps for the Falcons, which was 53.4 of their defensive snaps. Of those 631 plays, Clayborn rushed the quarterback 477 times, per Pro Football Focus (76 percent of his workload). And of those pass-rush snaps, only one came from the left side. (Clayborn was born with Erb's palsy, which means his right arm has some limitations compared to his left, which impacts the side of the field he aligns on. He played 91 percent of his snaps from the right side in 2016.)  Clayborn played over 80 percent of the snaps during each of his first three seasons in the league as a member of the Bucs so he's been a three-down player before. But recent history would suggest the 6-foot-2, 280-pounder is now more of a sub option.

Here's how Clayborn responded during a conference call on Wednesday when asked if he could chip in on first and second down for the Patriots. "I believe that’s what people have pigeon-holed me in as a third-down player, but I know I can play first, second, third down if need be," he said. "That was my role in Atlanta because that’s what they asked me to do, but I mean, I can play all three downs if you ask me."

AGAINST THE RUN: According to Pro Football Focus, Clayborn has been a negatively-graded player against the run during each of his seven seasons in the NFL. Last year he checked in as PFF's 78th-ranked run defender among edge players, which was far below the ranking Trey Flowers received (19th) but ahead of Deatrich Wise (85th) and Eric Lee (96th). During each of his last three seasons with the Falcons, he has seen his snap-counts break down similarly: about 75 percent of his work came against the pass, about 25 percent came against the run. He can defend the run. He's capable of it. He just hasn't been asked to consistently hold up on the edge on a down-in-down-out basis during the most recent phase of his career. 

THE FIT: Based on his history in Atlanta, it would make sense if the Patriots asked Clayborn to come off of the right edge in passing situations in 2018. That's where his recent experience has been. Keeping him away from the left side not only makes the most of where he's strongest, but it also keeps him from finding himself in coverage. As Belichick has explained in the past, the left end spot (Rob Ninkovich's old spot), going against right-handed quarterbacks, is typically asked to do more in coverage. The right edge has been Flowers' area in the recent past -- he played almost 65 percent of his passing-rush snaps last season off the right, per PFF -- but if the Patriots are fully-healthy up front, Flowers could kick inside to do his rushing. An ideal sub package for the Patriots, it could be argued, would have Clayborn on the right edge, Flowers and either Wise or Adam Butler on the interior, and Derek Rivers or Dont'a Hightower on the left edge. Rivers saw some work off the left side before suffering an injury in last year's training camp. Early last season, Hightower saw time on the left edge. 


Clayborn will have an opportunity to show he can do more than rush off the right side. He said on Wednesday that the Patriots have discussed multiple roles for him. (Perhaps he could rush from the interior, though he's not as long as Flowers or Wise, whose arms make them good matchups for stouter guards and tackles.) Wherever those opportunities come, Clayborn knows he'll have to make the most of them if he doesn't want to be pigeonholed. The deal for two years and $10 million he just signed in New England doesn't guarantee him myriad responsibilities.

"Whatever I can prove I can do,” he said. "I know I can rush the passer. I know I can set edge in the run. I mean, there’s a couple of different positions that they believe I can play, so it’s up to me to prove I can play them."


Ex-Patriot Ricky Jean-Francois signing with Lions

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Ex-Patriot Ricky Jean-Francois signing with Lions

Former Patriots defensive tackle Ricky Jean-Francois is signing with the Lions, according to Jordan Schultz of Yahoo Sports.

The 31-year-old had six tackles in six games for the Patriots in 2017. He'll reunite with ex-Patriots defensive coordinator and now Lions head coach Matt Patricia in Detroit.