Michael Bennett seemed a bit surprised that anyone wanted to talk to him the day after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Wild Card playoff loss to the New York Giants.
Bennett didn’t play in the 24-14 loss, but he could be part of the Bucs’ off-season plans, should he and the team agree to a new contract.
Bennett, an unrestricted free agent come March, would like to remain in Tampa Bay.
“I definitely do,” Bennett said. “But right now it’s time for me to sit back and reflect on this year. It’s been a whirlwind. But this is a great place. I just hate that I caught it in the middle (of the season) instead of the beginning.
Bennett began the season as Larry Johnson’s backup in Kansas City, but didn’t see much playing time. The Bucs traded for Bennett just before the trading deadline after injuries to both Carnell Williams and Michael Pittman.
Bennett saw limited action for the Bucs, carrying 41 times for 189 yards and a touchdown and catching 5 passes for 54 yards and a touchdown. The 5-foot-9, 207-pound back has top-shelf speed, but admitted that he struggled with the playbook at times, calling it “like reading Chinese” upon his arrival.
For that reason, Bennett never became a part of the normal running back rotation. He has his best games when the contest had already been decided, such as his 63-yard performance in a blowout victory over Atlanta, or when head coach Jon Gruden chose to rest his starters. Bennett rushed for 39 yards in the season finale when starter Earnest Graham sat out.
But his speed is intriguing. And Bennett, now that he has a grasp on the playbook, likes Gruden’s system.
“I think it’s the perfect system,” Bennett said. “Gruden does a great job of getting the ball to all the guys. It’s too bad there’s only one ball.”
Bennett has played in Minnesota, New Orleans and Kansas City and felt he landed into a great situation in Tampa Bay’s locker room.
“This is by far the best I’ve ever been around, in terms of veteran leadership and all the guys just coming together,” Bennett said.
Bennett was a starter at one point in Minnesota, but has been relegated to backup or platoon status at his last three stops. The free-agent market for running backs isn’t filled with top-shelf talent, so Bennett could land in a place where he could become a starter.
Tampa Bay has needs at his position, though. Carnell Williams likely won’t be ready for the season opener and Michael Pittman’s contract can be voided. The Bucs may need Bennett to return.
And Bennett said being a starter isn’t the top priority.
“My thing is I want to be out on the field,” Bennett said. “You don’t have to give me 35 carries a game. I just need to get on the field because I know I can bring that spark. I can make things happen. Not to be overconfident, but I do have the ability, once I get the ball, to make something happen.”
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Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for Bucsblitz.com and the Charlotte (Fla.) Sun-Herald. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association, and his coverage of the Buccaneers has won numerous state and national awards.