The past 48 hours have been hectic for running back Michael Bennett, who was sent to Tampa Bay via a trade with Kansas City on Monday night.
The Bucs reportedly gave the Chiefs a conditional draft pick in 2008 and 2009 in exchange for Bennett, who is in the final year of his contract.
Bennett was surprised when he learned he had been traded to the 4-2 Bucs on Monday evening. However, he's looking forward to playing in Tampa Bay.
"It came off as a shock, but I'm definitely thrilled about the opportunity," said Bennett. "I'm happy to play for a great organization, a winning team and one hell of a coach."
Bennett, 29, originally entered the NFL in 2001 as a first-round draft pick with the Minnesota Vikings. He has played in 81 career games, rushing for 3,426 yards (4.5 avg.) and 12 touchdowns.
His best year came in 2002 when he rushed for 1,296 yards (5.1 avg.) and five touchdowns and caught a career-high 37 passes for 351 yards and one touchdown en route to making the Pro Bowl.
Bucs defensive tackle Chris Hovan played with Bennett in Minnesota from 2002-04 and believes Tampa Bay's offense has added a new weapon to its arsenal.
"We spent a lot of time in Minnesota and played in a lot of games together, some good, some bad," Hovan said. "Mike is a great player, a great person off the field and he's going to be a key addition to our organization."
With running backs Mike Alstott (neck) and Cadillac Williams (torn patellar tendon) out for the season and Michael Pittman (sprained ankle) sidelined for at least five more weeks, Tampa Bay's ground game has struggled.
"We've lost three backs. We've lost three runners," said Bucs head coach Jon Gruden. "It was important that we try [to execute a trade], and we did – we executed and got Michael Bennett. Now what we have to do is make this work. That's another story that will be written here in the next couple of months."
The Bucs are currently ranked 19th in the NFL in rushing offense, averaging just 99 yards per game. Last Sunday, Tampa Bay rushed the ball 15 times for 30 yards (2.0 avg.) en route to a 13-10 win over Tennessee.
Tampa Bay knows wins will not be easy to come by if its offense cannot find more success via the ground game.
"I know that if we give him the football it's not like he's in a situation where he has to knock the rust off," Bucs quarterback Jeff Garcia said of Bennett. "He's in great playing shape. Now it's a matter of mentally being confident in the few plays that he has to run and making the most of it. I think that he can be a difference maker and hopefully it's this week, but if it's not this week we have other guys that are definitely ready and able to carry the load. Earnest Graham, B.J. Askew and [Zack] Crocket, who has to step in now, those guys are ready to do that for us."
Bennett brings experience to Tampa Bay's offense and his speed gives the Bucs a different type of threat compared to what they already have in Earnest Graham and fullbacks B.J. Askew and Crockett.
"He adds the ingredient to us of speed. He does have 10.0 300-meter speed," Gruden said of Bennett. "The threat of speed is sometimes as important as anything. There's no doubt he can hit the corner and he can be a force on the perimeter. He has been a guy comfortable in the pass protection, route-running role. Now it's just re-wiring his circuit to be comfortable in how we call plays."
Bennett's speed might even rival wide receiver Joey Galloway's. His 40-yard dash time at the 2001 NFL Combine was 4.18 and Bennett told the media on Wednesday that he ran a 4.27 40-yard dash over the summer.
"He's fast," Hovan said. "If you can get Mike going in a straight line from point A to point B, well, I don't know. I don't want to say anything against the great Joey Galloway, but Mike is pretty fast."
Tampa Bay's defense already has an idea of how fast Bennett is and what type of playmaking ability he brings to the Bucs offense.
In Week 9 of the 2002 regular season, Minnesota played Tampa Bay at Raymond James Stadium and although the Bucs defeated the Vikings 38-24 in that contest, Bennett broke off an 85-yard run for a touchdown against Tampa Bay's No. 1-ranked defense, which eventually helped the Bucs win Super Bowl XXXVII that season.
"I'm happy he's here now," said Bucs defensive end Greg Spires. "I hope we can get him to run for an -yard touchdown for us on Sunday."
That run helped put Bennett on the map in the NFL. He made the Pro Bowl in 2002, but his career has taken several turns since then.
The 5-foot-9, 207-pound Bennett signed a two-year, $3 million contract with the New Orleans Saints during the 2006 offseason. However, the Saints decided to trade Bennett to Kansas City after they selected Reggie Bush with the No. 2 overall pick in the NFL Draft to have him play with RB Deuce McAllister.
The former Wisconsin standout saw limited playing time in Kansas City behind Larry Johnson and Priest Holmes. In fact, he rushed for just 252 yards and caught 19 passes for 124 yards in 17 games with the Chiefs.
Bennett is hoping he will have an opportunity to establish himself as a full-time contributor in Tampa Bay.
"You could say that I was in the wrong place at the wrong time," Bennett said of playing in New Orleans and Kansas City. "It's all about opportunities. I think this is a great opportunity for me to come in and play more than I was in Kansas City. I'm around a veteran team and there's a lot of great leadership on and off the field, so I'm thrilled to be here.
"I never really have been in a place where I can be that guy. I hope the opportunity presents itself for me to get on the field and show this organization what I can do so hopefully I can be here for a long time."
But before he can prove himself with the Bucs, Bennett must first learn Tampa Bay's offense, which is considered a complex version of the West Coast system.
Once he landed in Tampa Bay at 11:00 a.m. on Tuesday, Bennett did not waste any time diving in to his playbook, which won't be easy to digest.
"It's a lot," said Bennett. "This West Coast system is like me trying to learn Chinese in 48 hours. It's not going to happen. But that's why we have the coaches and the veteran players to kind of help me along with the process."
Garcia can relate to how Bennett feels right now regarding Tampa Bay's playbook. Even though he had some familiarity with the West Coast offense, Garcia has admitted that Gruden's system is not an easy one to grasp, but he and Tampa Bay's other veterans plan to help accelerate the learning curve for Bennett.
"It's not easy. If he hasn't had a taste of this offense in the past, then it's not going to be a real easy situation for him," said Garcia. "That's where we need to help him through it and help him step up. It's not just on the running back, it's offensive line, receivers, myself. It's everybody stepping up and taking his game to another level in order to help our running game become more positive. It really hasn't had a positive affect in the last two weeks and that's important to turn around."
Gruden has coached up his fair share of players in his version of the West Coast system and said each player is different when it comes to how long it takes to learn it.
"It's hard to say. I've seen guys come in and take two, three, four weeks – take half a year or a whole year to learn it and get comfortable," Gruden said. "We'll gauge that as we go. It's hard to say.
"You give them a lot, so they have a lot to study. If you give them a little, then they have a little bit to study. We're going to try to give him a lot to study and a lot to absorb. We'll go day-by-day in terms of where he is and what we need to work on."
Bucs running backs coach/assistant head coach Art Valero has already spent a significant amount of time away from the practice field familiarizing Bennett with Tampa Bay's offense. They will continue the crash course routine in an effort to get Bennett ready to contribute as soon as possible.
"That's my job," said Valero. "I spent four hours with Michael last night, I'll spend four hours with him again tonight and I'll spend four hours with him again tomorrow to catch him up to speed and get him ready to go."
One of the things that could help Bennett learn Tampa Bay's offense in a timely manner is the fact that he executed some plays in Minnesota that were similar to what the Bucs are running now.
"Some of the things in Minnesota were definitely similar, but this is still a foreign language for me," said Bennett. "I've got to get in the books and learn as much as I can by Sunday."
In addition to wanting to showcase his abilities as a runner, early indications are the Bucs plan to utilize Bennett's receiving skills in Gruden's offense . He's caught 145 career passes for 1,164 yards and five touchdowns.
"I look forward to [catching passes]," said Bennett. "Coach Gruden has me running wide receiver routes, which I've never really done. I'm looking forward to doing that, though."
While he probably won't start for Tampa Bay against the 3-2 Detroit Lions, Bennett said the Bucs are already putting in packages for him and molding a portion of their offense around his abilities.
"I'm looking forward to playing on Sunday," said Bennett. "I got to practice today full speed and learn some things after practice so I can continue to get better and be ready to play on Sunday."
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