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The headline atop today's Tribune sports section reads "Lesson learned, Bennett returns." But what lesson did tight end Martellus Bennett really learn during the last week?
First, let's give a shout out to the headline writer. That is a one-column head and those are not easy. It appeared in the paper like this:
It is a very impressive little sentence containing a six-letter word followed by three of the seven-letter variety. It conveys the thesis of the story - and it stacks up - just about perfectly. There is even a little rhyming action in there. "Hey Mr. Anonymous Headline Writer (probably a copy editor at the Trib)!" we shout together. "Well done!"
Moving right along, let's talk about Mr. Bennett. From his responses to questions after returning Sunday from his almost week-long suspension from team activities, it seems as though he still may not have learned at least one important lesson: Express contrition in such a way as to convince teammates and fans that you actually feel bad about what you did.
Bennett is a funny guy and he dove right in to trying to be his usual entertaining self during his informal little press conference after practice. But he never seemed to get around to expressing real regret for essentially assaulting teammate Kyle Fuller during a practice early last week and then taking way too long to calm himself down afterward.
Of course, football practices necessarily feature many instances of teammates assaulting each other. But there is a line between the physical contact needed to properly prepare oneself to play this violent game and an over-the-top pounding of a teammate. Bennett clearly crossed it.
Perhaps the tight end seemed more sincere when he talked to his teammates in private, and one hopes most of all that he successfully apologized to Fuller.
Still, you have to wonder about this guy. He is supremely talented and possesses just about the perfect tight end body. The Bears desperately need him because, of all the positions on their team, they may have the least amount of depth at tight end.
Free agent-signee Zach Miller took advantage of Bennett's absence during Friday night's 34-28 exhibition win over the Eagles to haul in several memorable passes from several Bears quarterbacks. One hopes the former Division III quarterback (Nebraska-Omaha) can continue to successfully make the switch to tight end. He obviously shows plenty of promise as a pass-catcher.
But as a blocker? That is more of a work-in-progress for the player who spent four injury-plagued years (his first four in the league) with the Jaguars before signing with the Bears last off-season.
No matter what Miller does, though, the Bears need Bennett to continue to be the dual threat tight end he was last year. One oft-overlooked element of the Bears' offense last year was the blocking ability of primary receivers Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall. Working with Bennett, they were often able to envelope potential tacklers and turn good plays into great ones downfield.
But Bennett has worn out his welcome with teams in the past. In just the last three years, he has said goodbye to the Cowboys, and then spent only one year with the Giants before they let him go (though CSN's John Mullin says the narrative on Bennett's backstory is simply wrong). You would like to say that if he can't get his act together, the Bears should just dump him. But they simply can't afford to do that.
Then again, this will all probably just fade away sometime soon, right? There's way too much other stuff going on for this to fester and be a problem for the team overall, isn't there?
The optimist in me says yes and, heck, everyone needs to be optimistic during the preseason, don't they? At least they need to be optimistic until after the second preseason game. There will be plenty of time after that to start listing all the reasons why this won't be a great Bears season.
Jim "Coach" Coffman is our man on Mondays. He welcomes your comments.