Bennett's Turnaround Remarkable

Upon his completion of his senior season of football from Camden High, Charles Bennett was considered to be one of the top prep defensive ends in the entire country. Moreover, many recruiting services regarded him as one of the top 100 players in the nation, regardless of position.

It's safe to say, however, that during his first three years at Clemson, the redshirt junior didn't shown anywhere near the type of skills that garnered him so much attention while in high school.

But that may not be his fault.

"He was a guy that we tried at middle linebacker and that kind of backed him up a little bit," said defensive line coach Ron West. "He was coming here and we were loaded with ends that year. We had J.J. Howard, Khaleed Vaughn and Maurice Fountain. We had like five ends and we tried him at second-team MIKE. That just slowed the process down.

"Then last year when J.J. Howard got hurt, they moved him back to defensive end and he just kept getting better each week, and before the year was out, he was making major plays and contributions at defensive end."

Bennett has continued his impressive play from last season.

He was the only Tigers defensive reserve player to gain a starting job during spring practice. In the spring game, Bennett had five tackles, two of which were sacks and three pass breakups. His play was so impressive that it help contribute to some of the concern regarding the young offensive tackles in Marion Dukes and Roman Fry.

"His greatest asset is his speed, his whip move," said Dukes, who squares off against Bennett during practice. "But he can bullrush you, too. He's just not one technique. He's a lot of them. With him, it's like a quick move every minute. When he's dancing, you've got to keep your eyes on him and keep your balance or he's past you and headed for the quarterback."

Charles Bennett was also named the the Most Improved Defensive End of spring practice earlier this year.
Bennett returned to defensive end for the Virginia game during 2003, when Howard and Vaughn were injured. He played the last five games of the season at defensive end before putting together his best game of his career against No. 6 Tennessee in the Peach Bowl.

That evening, Bennett played a career-high 18 snaps and registered a key 14-yard sack of Volunteers quarterback Casey Clausen, which put them out of field goal range.

And with a new season just on the horizon, Bennett, who stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 250 pounds, sees no reason why the strong play to end last year, as well as that during the spring, won't continue throughout 2004.

"I've got the mindset to want to come out and work extra hard," he said. "I've worked extra hard in the weight room, too. I'm putting a lot more effort into it than I've been putting into it. We just come out and push each other because we all want the national championship.

"I think I understand it a lot more. I understand the game and have learned how to just relax and quit thinking so much on the field and just go out and play my game."

Offensive line coach Brad Scott said part of Bennett's improvement can be attributed to West, who has spent hours upon hours watching tape with him.

West, however, thinks otherwise.

"No, it doesn't have anything to do with me moving (from offensive line to defensive line), it's just that he's more into it and mature," West said. "He's very committed to knowing what to do. He pays attention to detail and he plays within the system really well and knows the defense.

"Our whole defensive structure is built around speed at every position, not size and mass. We don't want to be huge inside and not be able to run. The thing that Charles does is he can run, he can bend, his hips are real flexible and he's just a real good technique player."

Regardless of why it took Bennett a little longer to make an impact or why he has finally turned into a monster on defense, all that matters is he's ready to play. The question now is: Just how good is he and the rest of the defense going to be?

"We're going to be as good as we want to be," he said. "That's all that needs to be said about it." Top Stories