By Max Luckan
Michael Bennett, DE, #71
Weight: 274 lbs.
Hometown: Avondale, Louisiana
College: Texas A&M
Experience: 4 years
While the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have suffered a few key injuries on the defensive line this year, including a season-ending injury to defensive end Adrian Clayborn, one player has consistently played at a high level, garnering the attention of talent evaluators around the NFL. Surprisingly, it’s not Gerald McCoy, the third overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. It’s Michael Bennett, who is in his fourth year in the league and was ignored by many because he didn’t appear to have the necessary talent to start in the league. Some say he was simply overshadowed by his brother, Martellus Bennett, who is the starting tight end for the New York Giants, and that’s plausible, too.
Bennett was born in Avondale, Louisiana, but played his high school football at Alief Taylor High School in Houston, Texas. As a senior, Bennett earned All-District honors as one of the better players in the district. In his senior year, Bennett racked up 110 tackles and four sacks, which contributed to his achievement of All-District honors.
In college, Bennett wasn’t a standout player, but a solid contributor, racking up 2.5 sacks and 42 tackles in the 2008 season. Bennett was selected to the honorable mention All-Big 12 team once, but other than that, didn’t garner much attention as a potential star in the NFL.
Sure enough, Bennett went undrafted in the 2009 draft, but was given his first shot with the Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks gambled on Bennett because his play in college was, actually, rather inconsistent, which is likely why he wasn’t drafted at all. With the Seahawks, Bennett was able to make the final roster in 2009, but was waived on Oct. 10 to make room for another player.
Just two days later, the Bucs claimed Bennett off waivers because of an injury to McCoy. Of course, the Bucs had to move Bennett back to defensive tackle, where he played well in McCoy’s absence.
In 2012, Bennett has arguably been the most consistent player on the Bucs’ defensive line. So far, Bennett has seven sacks, three forced fumbles, and 30 combined tackles. Aside from being consistent, Bennett is also very ambitious.
“I’m proud of what I’ve done, but I’m not satisfied,” Bennett said last month, according to the Tampa Bay Times. “I want to go to the Pro Bowl. There are a lot of other things I want to do.”
Bennett signed a tender in March of 2012, meaning he’s making around $2.7 million this year and will be a free agent once the season concludes. The Bucs would be wise to re-sign Bennett, as he’s proven that he’s worthy of a starting spot in the lineup. However, Bennett will have to compete with Adrian Clayborn once he returns and defensive end Da’Quan Bowers, who has also shown rapid improvement.
The Bucs saw the potential in Bennett, potential that other teams apparently didn’t see, as he didn’t garner any interest from other teams after being waived. As general manager Mark Dominik is accustomed to doing, he signed Bennett to a deal in a low-risk, high-reward situation, and it appears to be paying off so far.
Bennett will surely command a long-term deal this upcoming offseason, and the Bucs should be willing to lock him up right away, because he’s turned into a consistent, flexible starter on the defensive line.
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Max Luckan lives in Tampa, FL and is a sports writer covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and NFL. Luckan has been covering the Buccaneers for a few years now. You can find more of his work at Examiner.com.