"He is doing an unbelievable job for a true freshman," says Bennett's position coach, Patrick Moore. "He was probably the only true freshman on the field in the Tennessee game other than Kody Bliss and John Vaughn. He had about 25 snaps. He had a couple of technique errors, but competition-wise and attitude-wise and with his aggression, he was unbelievable. He was much more than you could expect."
Bennett's fourth quarter touchdown reception on a nine-yard toss from Jason Campbell turned out to be the winning margin in Auburn's 28-21 victory over Tennessee. The freshman from Dalton, Ga., has four catches for 49 yards this season as he makes an impressive comeback from knee surgery that cut short his senior season at Dalton High School.
"Pretty much every day in practice and in every game, I feel more comfortable and confident in what I am doing," Bennett tells Inside the Auburn Tigers. "I am still not anywhere I need to be. Every day I feel like I am improving a little bit. If I don't improve, I realize what I need to work on to take another step forward."
Tight ends coach Moore says that he enjoys watching the freshman develop. "He has a good time playing," Moore says. "He is a 4.0 student, a sharp kid. You don't have worry about him on breakdowns. He plays hard and enjoys it. He is a coach's kid who has been around it and knows what is expected. He has stepped up because we needed him. He is going to keep going and he knows it because we have made a lot of mistakes at the position, including Cooper (redshirt sophomore starter Cooper Wallace). For a freshman, sophomore or whatever, Cole played well for us Saturday and helped us win."
Cole Bennett works out at Wednesday's practice as the Tigers prepare for Arkansas.
Moore says that Wallace has been very supportive of the backup tight end. "Cooper has really helped the kid," the coach notes. "I think Cooper was more excited for Cole catching the touchdown than Cole was. The biggest thing he had to learn, in addition to the pace of the game, is that he can do this. We wouldn't put him in a position if he couldn't do it. He played against some good players on Saturday night and went toe to toe with them. He won some and lost some, but I think he will be a much better player this week and a better player the next week."
Bennett says that having Wallace help teach him the position has been a plus. "It was a real blessed situation to have Cooper already here," Bennett says. "He has really looked out for me and taken me under his wing and made sure I knew what to do. He has told me from past experience what he did in certain situations so it has been a big help to have him here having already done everything."
By playing so well in a pressure game against a Top 10 team last week, Bennett has likely earned himself playing time for this week's test vs. another Top 10 opponent, the Arkansas Razorbacks. "It gives us more confidence in him, too, not that we didn't have it," Moore says. "We can throw him in there. The first play we put him in there vs. Tennessee was the play where we were trying to draw them offsides. I was thinking, "Oh, no,' he is going to be all upset and jumpy, but he held in there and did a good job. His confidence is growing every day."
One reason for Bennett's football maturity is that he grew up around the game. "With my dad being a coach, it taught me the value of working hard," Bennett says. "I had to work harder than most people because people automatically assumed that you were playing because you were the coach's son. Right off the bat, I learned I had to work twice as hard as myself to prove not only myself, but everyone out there, that I deserved to be where I was. Being a coach's son prepared me to work hard and also helped me with my knowledge of the game and the ins and outs that a coach can bring to you."
The transition from high school to college gave be a daunting one, even for an honor student like Bennett, but he is handling that part of his freshman year with no problems. "It's not too bad," he says. "My senior year I took college English at a local community college so I kind of understood how college professors work as opposed to high school teachers," Bennett says. "The first couple of weeks you are trying to find your groove, when to take breaks and how much time you have. After that you learn the information and then you learn the teacher, which is almost as important as knowing the information. It hasn't been that big of an adjustment."
Against Tennessee, Bennett scored his first college touchdown on a perfectly executed bootleg pass thrown by Campbell. "We have been running that inside and outside zone all night and we got down to the goal line and decided to run a bootleg off of it," Bennett says. "The line and the running backs did a great job of selling the fake. Cooper did a great job blocking that end, which caused the safety to read to flow. With the line doing the job they were doing, all I had to do was get across the middle untouched and get a good ball from Jason, which he threw."
Tiger Ticket Extra: Bennett says he is still not 100 percent in getting all of his speed and agility back after having knee surgery last fall. He says there is still stiffness in the knee and he has to concentrate to keep from playing too upright in a game in which the low man wins most of the battles.