GREEN BAY — Sometimes, between his unorthodox metaphors and out-of-nowhere expletives, amid his riffs on the importance of creativity and individuality, it’s easy to dismiss Martellus Bennett as a little bit goofy or silly — a unique character in the regimented world of the NFL who not only marches to the beat of a different drum, but has his own house band.
But when the Green Bay Packers’ well-traveled tight end opens up — talking beyond the funny self-descriptions (“In my family, I’m the rainbow,” “I’m the Captain of Fun” and “I’m everybody’s BFF” among them) and book recommendations (from children’s classics such as Dr. Seuss and Winnie the Pooh to Paulo Coelho, Malcolm Gladwell and Eckhart Tolle) and non-football non sequiturs (this week’s: “Sprinkles are delicious on cake!” as part of a discussion about winning a championship) — you realize that he’s one self-aware cat who had evolved as a player and a person during his previous nine NFL seasons with four teams.
That’s what happened this week, as Bennett and the Packers prepared to play his original team, the Dallas Cowboys, Sunday in Arlington, Texas. For Bennett, who quickly won over new teammates upon his arrival in March and is half of a seemingly authentic mutual admiration society with quarterback Aaron Rodgers, it seemed like the right time to look back on his first four NFL seasons and articulate just how different he is today, at age 30.
“Who I was when I was with the Cowboys, I was a little (jerk), a little (expletive). I feel like if I had a better mindset when I was in Dallas, I probably would have been better off,” Bennett said of his four years with the Cowboys, who selected him in the second round of the 2008 NFL draft as a 21-year-old junior out of Texas A&M. “But my perspective and my mind were in a different place than what they are now. Every single year is a year of growth. You just try to become better from it as a teammate and a person.
“And, these guys are pretty cool. I mean, they have great chemistry. So I just try to get in where I fit in.”
He has fit in well so far, at least in the locker room, even if his statistical contributions have not been what he’d hoped they’d be. He’s been part of the teammate-to-teammate discussions about social issues related to NFL players’ protests during the national anthem, had two teammates (Lance Kendricks, Kevin King) support and join him when he sat for the anthem before the team’s Sept. 24 game against Cincinnati, and was the primary author of an open letter to fans last week about the players’ idea of a show of “unity” before last week’s game.
Bennett has also experienced some blowback from fans put off by his outspokenness and activism — not to mention his support of his brother Michael, a defensive end for the Seattle Seahawks whose claim of racial profiling by Las Vegas police has been questioned and criticized based on officers’ body-cam footage.
But with Rodgers and others, Bennett’s addition to a locker room that lost some well-respected leaders (T.J. Lang, Julius Peppers, Micah Hyde) during the offseason has been welcome.
“I’d say it’s a pretty close-knit group. There’s been some additions to the team that have really helped with that locker-room culture that I was — and I think a number of other leaders were — worried about after losing so many great leaders from last year’s squad,” Rodgers said. “This is a different team. We might not have the same type of leadership, but we might have a greater sense of unity because of some of the things that have happened and also some of the conversations that have been going on in here that were a little bit different than we’ve had in the past.”
Bennett knows he could certainly win over more Packers fans with more production. He enters Sunday’s game at Dallas with 17 receptions for 141 yards after catching a season-high six passes for 39 yards — including a crucial 26-yard catch and run that set up a touchdown — in last week’s victory over the Chicago Bears, another of his former teams.
Afterward, Rodgers emphasized the importance of getting Bennett involved early in games — and reiterated this week just how vital that is. In an offense where top receivers Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Davante Adams need to get the ball and versatile running back Ty Montgomery needs his touches, too, there have been times where Bennett has been lost in the shuffle.
He also didn’t help his cause by dropping four passes — two of the drops were nullified by defensive penalties — in the Packers’ lone loss, at Atlanta. For the year, Bennett has been charged with three official drops by ESPN Stats & Information, which are the fourth-most in the league through four games.
Bennett admitted that he was pressing early on, and to not being where he needed to be mentally in the wake of his brother’s late-August incident in Vegas. He said his concerns about his level of play and about non-football issues sapped his creativity, which is an off-the-field release for him that allows him to focus on the field.
“There was a lot of stuff going through my mind. Now I’m just freeing my mind — getting back to meditating, getting back to painting. Because if I don’t paint, I don’t draw, that’s how I put myself back in the now,” Bennett said. “It’s a balance. If you’re not in that space, then how can you really play at a high level? If there’s no true balance, something is off. If my personal life is off with the things going on in the world — the turmoil, dealing with my brother and stuff like that — of course the side of football is going to be off, too. It (creates) an isosceles triangle. And you want to be an equilateral triangle as much as possible — spiritually, emotionally, and physically.”
While that might sound a bit too new-agey to some, Rodgers clearly understands the importance of getting his newest weapon into the right “head space.” Twice in the past week, he’s talked about how important it is that he “get Marty more involved a little bit earlier in the game,” so don’t be surprised if Rodgers looks Bennett’s way a lot on Sunday.
And if he doesn’t?
“The only stat that really matters is getting a W. There was one point in my life where individual statistics outweighed everything else that happened on the field. But as you grow as a player and you start thinking about championships,” said Bennett, who won his first Super Bowl with the New England Patriots last year.
“How I may have been or how I may feel in the locker room may be due to immaturity of my own or my own perspective of things going on. As you get older, you can change your perspective and you can change your life. So I tell people that all the time. I just have this open perspective on everything that’s gone on over the last few years of (my) life and try to become egoless. It’s a battle every single day, but when you’re in the now and you’re in the present, everything feels different. The world is more colorful.”