FOXBORO -- Martellus Bennett didn't play as much as he would've liked when he spent the first four years of his career behind Jason Witten in Dallas. And he wasn't exactly Witten's biggest fan. But he learned something in those years that's helped him perform as one of the most versatile tight ends in football this season.
"The best players are the ones that are available," Bennett said Friday. "If you're not on the field, you're not really doing much for the team. I try to be dependable and durable most of my career.
"I came from behind a guy who has never missed a practice and never missed a game in Jason Witten, so there were a lot of things I learned from him when I was down there, just taking care of yourself and always trying to play through different injuries and different things here and there. Dependability is a big part of it, being out there where they know they can count on you, showing up every week, that's huge."
Bennett, who is questionable for Sunday's game, has been dealing with an ankle issue since a three-touchdown performance against the Browns in Week 5, and on Friday he popped up on the report with a shoulder injury to go along with the ankle ailment. Still, he's been on the field almost every day for the Patriots -- practices and games.
Thursday was the first practice he's missed this season, but he was back on the field Friday. After the workout quarterback Tom Brady praised Bennett's dependability.
"He’s done a great job and he’s been out there every week to compete," Brady said. "He’s a very tough guy. When you see him, he’s 6-foot-7, 280, I mean, he doesn’t back down from anybody. I think it’s just him showing up to work every day, ready to go, and excited about what he’s got to do and whether he’s been asked to block or catch. He’s caught a lot of good balls, a lot of big balls. His run after catch is pretty incredible for someone that’s his size.
"I think that’s what makes him such a dynamic player when the ball is in his hands. He’s got a great run after catch, but he’s got a very unique skill set, a very unique knowledge of the game. He’s a very smart player, so it’s been great to be out there with him."
Bennett has seen 78 percent of the team's offensive snaps this season after missing just three plays in the team's first three games. When Rob Gronkowski returned from injury and took on a greater workload starting in Week 5, Bennett's participation rate fell somewhat. Yet, when Gronkowski missed last weekend's game against the 49ers, the Patriots leaned heavily on Bennette once again. He made just one catch for 14 yards, but he had a variety of responsibilities as a blocker and played in 74 of a possible 77 snaps.
"Yeah, he’s shown good toughness," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Friday. "He’s been a very dependable player for us in terms of being out there all the way through the spring, OTAs, training camp, regular season.
"It’s one of those positions – offensive line, tight end, linebacker, running back – those guys get hit a lot. They are in a lot of contact plays. Part of those positions, I mean it’s true of all positions, too. I’m not trying to single them out, but there’s contact pretty much on every play for them. Part of those positions is durability."
And few have been more durable than Bennett.