Maryland landed defensive back Kenny Bennett (Academy at Palumbo/Philadelphia, Pa.) Nov. 9, and afterward we spoke to his head coach, Scott Pitzner, to gain more insight into the 6-foot-2, 195-pounder. Our question and answer session is below:
Terrapin Times: I know Kenny has only been at Palumbo for less than a year, Coach, but can you tell us what he brings to the table as a defensive back for you guys?
Scott Pitzner: He’s done a lot for us, besides just play D-back. He’s extremely physical. He’s got great, long reach; real good strength; and he’s a very cerebral player. He thinks about what’s going to happen; he’s got a clear idea how many steps a receiver will be taking, what kind of route it is, where he’s supposed to be on a route like that. Those are the types of things that run through his head, and he has a great reaction to thing like that.
And for us, he played tight end, receiver, kick return, punt return and kick coverage. He broke a 96-yard punt return in the playoffs. He’s a kid who, you get the ball in his hands, and he can definitely make things happen. And every time [the opponent] had a real good receiver, we’d put Kenny on him and he’d lock [the receiver] up. We held a lot of teams to under 50 yards passing the last few games of the season. We went about two weeks where we only allowed 16 yards in the air. That’s a testament to the strength we had at corner. By having him out there, it allowed us to play a lot of man to man, and it freed up a lot blitz packages for us.
TT: Coach, given Kenny's size at 6-2, 195, do you seem him more of a safety or outside linebacker at the next level? How do you project him?
SP: We had those thoughts in mind for him this year. We worked him at safety for a bit, and we have a hybrid position as an outside linebacker/strong safety. He plays a little of each to get him a taste for all that, and we coached him up on those things. Because those are the types of things [coaches] are going to have to decide when he gets to college.
I could see him playing corner most of the time. He can lock guys down, but he has the ability to play safety or outside linebacker. But I think [OLB] would take him a little longer to learn. It took him a little while to get up to speed with [OLB] in our system. That would be a transitional position he would go into. It would depend on how much bigger he gets, but he could definitely play that spot.
But he has so much speed on the outside. I mean, in the first few games he blocked three extra points coming off the edge. He just has that kind of speed and reach.
TT: And what are some things Kenny still needs to work on to get ready for Big Ten ball? We know all kids need to get stronger, but what are some technical areas?
SP: His cover-3, I can tell you that (laughs). He blew a couple cover-3s this year. He tries to overcompensate for a lack of strength in some of the positions for us. He tries to do more than he needs to.
I think just getting used to the routine and expectations at the college level. Going from being the big fish to being the little fish again. That will take a little change. But the things I’m not worried about are the work ethic and all his personal workouts. He does a great job in the weight room and putting in the time.
And he’s a leader, but more on the field than anything else. That’s an area for him to grow in, that leadership role not just by his play on the field, but by his communication and action.
TT: Coach, I know you haven't seen Kenny until this year, but maybe playing against him at Simon Gratz, did you remember anything or get a sense how he developed?
SP: Actually, at the school he attended, I was the athletic director. So I’ve known him since he was a freshman, and had a strong relationship with him in school as far as grades and behavior. And we’ve talked football since he started [high school]. I also met his father, and we talked a lot of football.
But Kenny was big coming in. Even as a freshman, he had the size. I was like, ‘Here’s a kid who can be a three-sport athlete and could be special if he works.’ And he’s done that. He’s a kid who has worked on becoming a better football player.
But I knew walking in, this was a big kid; he could move; he was athletic; and had good knowledge about athletics. He reacts well to situations. I knew he was going to go somewhere right away.
I don’t know if there was really a big growth phase for him. He came in big, trim and all cut up as a freshman; he’s just put on more size as the years have gone on.
TT: Is there any moments you can point to that really opened your eyes, that told you Kenny could be special?
SP: I didn’t get to see him too much before he played for me, but the first thing we noticed as a staff was his ability to dominate another player. In the first scrimmage, as a tight end, he had seven, eight pancake blocks on the first 10 plays. And we’re talking taking out defensive ends, knocking them off their feet, driving them 20 yards downfield, and putting them on their backs. And he did that consistently play after play after play.
That’s what struck me. It was one of those man-against-boys moments where it was like, ‘This kid has a little more than everyone else.’ And then we hit him on a curl route, and in the open field the kids didn’t even want to tackle him. One kid just stuck his leg out and tried to trip him. It just kind of showed where he was as far as that. He’d go up an get the ball in situations where it should have been interceptions or incomplete passes, and Kenny pulled it down and took care of it.
He’s definitely shown his physical strength amongst other players. As a tight end, he really, really dominated and allowed us to run the ball a lot better.
TT: I'm not sure what your dealings were, but how much did you talk to Matt Barnes, Aazaar Abdul-Rahim and the Maryland staff? How were they in the process?
SP: I didn’t have too much interaction. I’m one of those coaches where it’s like, ‘What do you need from me?’ The coaches aren’t recruiting me, and I don’t want them to. It’s all about the kids. But each interaction I’ve had has been awesome with Maryland. But I didn’t really sit and have conversations or call them up. Most of that stuff has been between Kenny and his dad.
TT: What's Kenny like around his teammates and in the locker room? Give some insight into his character for us, can you flesh out who he is?
SP: He’s well spoken, educated and polite. In a lot of ways he’s mature beyond most kids going through this type of process would be.
And one things is he loves, loves, loves competition. Whether it’s before practice, during practice of after practice -- he wants to compete, try his best and beat you. In spring, we ran one on ones, and he was putting everybody on the bench. Receivers weren’t getting off the line.
We had a moment in practice, doing punt return, and he was covering the gunner. And we had to keep calling the next kid off the bench, because no one could get off the line of scrimmage. That was one of those moments, where it’s like, here’s what he brings to the table.
But he loves the competition, and he’ll work for it. He gives respect when somebody [beats] him, but then he’ll challenge them and go after them.
TT: Last question, Coach. What kind of potential does Kenny have at the next level?
SP: I think his physicality is going to stand out. He’s a big, physical guy, and he has a good nose for the ball. I think he’ll definitely grow. The potential is there for him to make it to the League.
But what I love about Kenny is his focus on getting his degree, and [college] is a catalyst for that. He’s going to work hard to try to get to the NFL, but he’s also going to work hard to graduate college. That’s the most important thing and the greatest thing about the kid – his determination to graduate. He realizes football isn’t the end all, be all.
And him going down Maryland, its’ a great environment, city and program. I think he went down there and really fell in love with it. And I think he’ll be really successful there and definitely help that program out.
Up here, he really worked, he was determined and he got better. I think that’s what he’s going to bring to Maryland.