Observation Deck: Bennett's impact

With Michael Bennett now with the Buccaneers, how will he impact the running game? How will he be used? What can Bucs fans expect from him statistically? I examine the possibilities, with expert analysis from the Scout.com experts that covered him in Minnesota and Kansas City in this premium piece.

Tampa Bay probably did about as well as they were going to in delivering a trade for Michael Bennett. The Buccaneers were not in a position to give up a first-day selection, nor were they going to get a player worth that sort of pick (sorry Michael Turner fans).

In giving up a second-day pick (sources put it as a sixth-rounder), they maximized the pick's value for a former 1,000-yard rusher who is a bit of an injury risk, but can be productive running and receiving. Plus, according to warpaintillustrated.com's Nick Athan, he's a tremendous locker room presence, something the Buccaneers value greatly.

"He was a great locker room guy and did his best to keep Larry Johnson in check," Athan said. "He might be one of the nicest guys I've run across and will do whatever it takes to be a sheriff in the locker room and counsel young players."

Character is important to the Buccaneers. But production, right now, is crucial.

Tampa Bay's ground game the past two contests has been woeful. Certainly injuries have played a part in that lack of production. But the rest falls to the players that are playing now. Thirty yards rushing — even if it is against the league's No. 3 defense — won't cut it if the Buccaneers expect to win the NFC South.

Is Bennett the cure-all? No, but he can be a component in the solution.

At 5-foot-9, 207 pounds, he isn't a physical back, as Vikingupdate.com's Tim Yotter explains. He covered Bennett during the back's five-year career in Minnesota.

"While he had a 1,200-yard season for the Vikings (in 2002), it was behind one of the league's better offensive lines at the time and still during an era when defenses were heavily concentrated on stopping Randy Moss," Yotter said.

Athan said Bennett does have a tendency to get clogged in the middle, but that he does have a solid first step.

The Buccaneers have Earnest Graham for the tougher, inside running. Graham is no taller than Bennett, but he has about 20 pounds on the former Badger and he invites contact. I doubt inside running will be Bennett's primary role in Tampa Bay, though he will have to do some running between the tackles.

No, Bennett should slip into the role vacated by the injured Michael Pittman — that of a change of pace back who offers solid receiving ability and enough speed to take the corner on stretch plays and sweeps. Athan said Bennett also does a solid job blocking in pass protection.

Yotter had the same assessment of Bennett's time in Minnesota, though he's a bit less kind regarding Bennett's footwork.

"Bennett has often tried to use his speed to bounce runs outside with little success and tended to stutter-step behind the line of scrimmage too much," Yotter said.

Two other concerns are ball possession and injuries. Athan said the Chiefs soured on Bennett after he fumbled against the Bears in the red zone in the fourth quarter. Also, Bennett has lost 19 pro games to injury, all to his lower body.

Still, Bennett offers a wealth of experience as a starter — 49 career starts — and as a backup. He knows how to be "the man" in an offense, along with how to be a complementary player. The Chiefs were not using him at all this season. The Chiefs had Larry Johnson as their starter. Additionally, Athan said with Priest Holmes practicing and fifth-round pick Kolby Smith gaining favor among the coaching staff, Bennett became expendable.

For the Chiefs, getting a possible sixth-rounder for a player that would leave in free agency in 2008 probably seemed like a great deal.

It could turn out to be a great deal for the Buccaneers too. Bennett fills an obvious need, has talent and after two relatively inactive years in Kansas City, he has fresh legs. His use this week against Detroit will depend on how quickly he can grasp Jon Gruden's offensive scheme. It's likely, given the Bucs' inability to run the ball, that Gruden will create a small package of plays to use Bennett immediately, and build that package as he learns the offense.

So what can Bucs fans expect from Bennett? I would suspect that his impact won't be immediate, but by his second or third week with the team he could supplant Graham as the starter and produce about 75 yards on 15-18 carries, along with 2-4 receptions per game. I don't believe the Bucs traded for Bennett to be a complement to Graham. I think the idea is for Graham to become Bennett's complement, a rotation that I think can work if the Buccaneers offensive line blocks better on run downs.

It's a rotation that will get even better when Pittman returns from injury. Between the three backs, the Buccaneers could approach the consistent ball-control attack they had before Carnell Williams and Pittman were hurt.


Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for BucsBlitz.com and the Charlotte Sun-Herald in Port Charlotte, Fla. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association and has won national awards for his Buccaneers coverage from the PFWA, the National Newspaper Association and the Associated Press Sports Editors. He is also a contributor to the Scot Brantley Show from 4-7 p.m. weekdays on WHBO 1490-AM in Tampa-Clearwater.


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