Tampa Bay running back Michael Bennett's patience might pay off this week.
Bennett, who spent the first three games of the season on the sideline as an inactive member of the Buccaneers, could suit up and play vs. the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.
The Bucs coaching staff told Bennett earlier in the week to get ready to play on special teams and possibly offense.
"There's a little bit of hope," said Bennett. "We'll work it out this week and see, but there might be some stuff there on special teams and maybe a little on offense.
"I'll probably be all over the place, but as of right now I'm not really sure."
Bennett, 30, carried the ball 45 times for 203 yards (4.5 avg.) and scored one touchdown while receiving a significant amount of action in preseason, but each NFL team can dress just 46 of its 53 players on game days, so Bennett has been one of the odd men out for three straight weeks.
The former first-round draft pick said he plans on capitalizing on any playing time he receives, whether it comes in practice or on game days.
"I have to go all out with the practice reps and everything," said Bennett. "I will continue to give it 100 percent each and every week in order to stay in shape and keep my mind mentally in the game. These last few weeks have been hard and frustrating, but I have to understand my role and I do understand it. But as a professional athlete you want to be out on the field helping your team win."
It is unclear what Bennett's role would be vs. the Packers, but fullback B.J. Askew (hamstring) did not practice on Wednesday, which could create a need on offense. Tampa Bay's return game has also struggled behind rookie wide receiver Dexter Jackson, who is averaging just 3.0 yards per punt return and 23.1 yards per kickoff return.
"We want to see a lot more to be honest with you," Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said of the return game. "We've worked at it. We had some excitement in the preseason. We had a potential game-breaking play at New Orleans. I think that Dexter just was tackled at the end there to start our final drive. But it has been kind of quiet a little bit. Then again, we have to keep working. There are a lot of areas we want to pick up and that is just one of them."
Bucs wide receiver Michael Clayton replaced Jackson on kickoff returns in the game at Chicago. He averaged 23 yards per return on three attempts. Gruden suggested Clayton could be used again on kickoff returns, although there might be a more pressing need for him at wide receiver, where Joey Galloway (foot) still is injured.
"I think Mike has the ability to do a lot of things," said Gruden. "Right now we'd like to let him zoom in on the wide receiver position. He is playing pretty good right now. He played better this weekend. I just don't want to put too many things on his plate right now because he is a very physical player and that is the way we like Clayton."
Bennett returned seven kickoffs (24.7 avg.) at Wisconsin. He also played some gunner during organized team activities and notched one special teams tackle in Tampa Bay's playoff loss to the New York Giants in January. While he admitted that it's been a while since he tackled, Bennett actually played several defensive positions in high school before settling in to his role as a full-time running back in college.
"I played defense in high school," said Bennett. "I played linebacker, cornerback and safety. I was an All-State linebacker, so I can tackle. I was known as a tackler all my life up until college."
His role hasn't been determined yet, and there's still a chance he won't play on Sunday, but Bennett is ready to embrace any role he's fortunate enough to receive on game day.
"I played gunner and some kickoff return. I've done it all, pretty much," said Bennett. "In college I did kickoff return a lot and I did gunner a lot. I've been pretty versatile. Whatever spot they need me at I'm just ready to put on my uniform, helmet and shoulder pads and play against a team, and with a team I love playing with."