PHOENIX - Before Martellus Bennett was considered, coach Mike McCarthy said the Green Bay Packers' front office vetted whether it was wise to sign the polarizing tight end.
It’s the same process they follow for any potential free agent. In this case, the Packers knew they were pursuing a different kind of player. Bennett’s reputation precedes him.
Hell of a tight end. No filter.
“A bit of a renaissance man,” general manager Ted Thompson called Bennett.
The Packers had to be sure Bennett’s big personality fit inside their buttoned-down locker room. Here was the potential for an oil-and-water arrangement. So when Bennett visited Green Bay on the first full day of free agency, it was a highly anticipated meeting.
McCarthy said Bennett “impressed a lot of people” on his visit.
“I enjoyed my time with him,” McCarthy said Tuesday at the NFL owners meetings. “The creativity and the personality, but more importantly what he brings to the program. I think he’ll be a good fit for us.”
Later, McCarthy added: “I think he’ll be a good fit in our locker room.”
There is fit in the locker room, and there is fit in an offense. Both are important.
With Bennett, one is clearer than the other.
Even with more production from their tight end position last season — thanks to one-year rental Jared Cook — it remained a “displaced” position in McCarthy’s system. Packers tight ends split out wide. They lined up in the backfield.
More than ever, McCarthy said, tight ends were not in the one place most expected: line of scrimmage, next to the tackle.
McCarthy wants to change that this fall. In Bennett, the Packers signed a player capable of creating mismatches as an in-line tight end. He’s a big, mauling blocker, standing 6-foot-6 and 275 pounds. And he can run, a 4.68-second 40-yard dash that stretches the middle of the field.
“He doesn’t give up tendencies,” receiver Brandon Marshall said of Bennett, a former teammate in Chicago, “because he can block. He’s probably the best blocking tight end in the business. So that’s a plus. I would think he’s actually better at that than at being a receiving tight end, and we all know how special he is as a pass catcher.
“Aaron Rodgers has an exotic car, and pull him out and do whatever you want with him, and he’ll be ready.”
Put a tight end who doesn’t reveal tendencies on the line of scrimmage, and it can knock defenses off balance. A playmaker who can block and catch is difficult to defend. Harder, still, for a defense to know what play is coming.
That’s just what McCarthy expects from Bennett.
Bennett wasn’t in-line much last season with the New England Patriots, McCarthy said. He’ll line up everywhere in the Packers' offense this fall, as will fellow incoming tight end Lance Kendricks. But many, if not most, of Bennett’s snaps will come at the spot McCarthy wants to return his tight ends: line of scrimmage, next to the tackle.
“He definitely gives that,” McCarthy said. “That’s something that he didn’t play a lot of up in New England. He’s been displaced a lot. I’m looking forward to playing him in every position — displaced, moving around. It’ll be great to get him back and play a little more tight end on the line of scrimmage.”
Last season in New England notwithstanding, Bennett has at times been a dynamic in-line tight end during his career.
His fit inside the Packers' locker room will be more interesting.
Thompson scoffed at the notion big personalities don’t presently exist in his locker room. None are the size of Bennett’s. Few players in the league can match his candor.
Check the tight end’s Twitter feed to find a window into his brash perspective. One moment, he can be tweeting about the needlessness of the NFL’s celebration rules. In another, he might be stirring a thoughtful conversation on race, religion or art.
Bennett approaches football the same way. Those who’ve coached him describe an inquisitive mind, always searching for questions to the answers.
“The challenges that Marty always brought for me,” Miami Dolphins coach and former Bears offensive coordinator Adam Gase said, “was he’s very intelligent, and he asks a lot of really good questions. So he’s not going to let you just get way with, ‘Hey, just run it this way.’ He’s going to ask you why. And sometimes as a coach you want to move onto the next thing, but it’s a really good thing. Because that allows the other guys to feel like they can ask the same questions.
“I appreciated that about him, the fact that he wanted to know why he had to do something, or why he was doing it a certain way. He always had suggestions and comments about certain concepts we do.”
McCarthy said he hasn’t consulted any of his peers on the challenges of coaching Martellus Bennett. He trusts the internal research he received from his front office. Collectively, the Packers seem to embrace the new reality Bennett brings.
They have a new dimension, both on and off the field. It could make their offense better. It could make their locker room more interesting.
There might not be a dull moment in between.
“I think that’ll be a good thing, a fun thing,” Thompson said. “Maybe he’ll educate myself and some of the players.”