GREEN BAY – A fast break can take many forms depending on the point guard, with those around him needing to keep tabs on the ball at all times to understand what’s expected.
Just ask Martellus Bennett.
“If you play for the Warriors, you run to the 3-point line,” said the Packers tight end on Thursday. “If you play with Chris Paul, you’re running to the rim to get alley-oops.”
Five games into his career with the Packers, Bennett is starting to get a better feel for how he fits into Aaron Rodgers’ version of the fast break – the scramble drill.
As plays break down, the Packers’ quarterback is his most lethal. Seconds move like hours for the defense. Pass rushers try to track down Rodgers and defensive backs look to plaster their man.
Like Steph Curry or Paul taking the ball up court, Rodgers escapes the pocket and looks for targets downfield. Receivers break off their routes to find a soft cushion in the secondary.
Bennett has caught 423 passes for 4,481 yards and 30 touchdowns in nine-plus seasons. He’s won a Super Bowl and played alongside the likes of Tom Brady, Eli Manning and Tony Romo.
While he invested an entire offseason in developing chemistry with Rodgers, there’s still no replacing the experience of playing with the two-time NFL MVP.
“For me, it’s just getting used to scrambling with him and what he wants to see, and adjusting to the style of play here,” Bennett said. “I’m getting adjusted more and more each week, and sometimes things take time to get comfortable with, from practice to games, the way he manages things and what he’s looking for.”
Bennett is learning, though. His efforts were rewarded in Sunday’s 35-31 win over the Dallas Cowboys when he caught three passes for 53 yards, including a critical 33-yard reception off a scramble drill in the third quarter.
Bennett’s mind was moving a mile a minute during the play. At one point, he considered trying something else they’d talked about in the classroom, but then reverted back to his fundamentals and instincts.
Lined up in the slot out of an empty formation, Bennett initially peeled into the flat before turning up the sideline. Rodgers then did what Rodgers does in tossing a perfect pass to Bennett between the coverage of Cowboys defensive backs Byron Jones and Jeff Heath for the completion.
Rodgers has made those types of explosive plays time and time again with Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Davante Adams before welcoming Bennett to the club Sunday evening.
“No. 1, it was important for our team because that certainly was a big play that got us going in the second half,” tight ends coach Brian Angelichio said. “But any time you can have extended plays, which obviously Aaron’s so good at, and be able to go up and get the ball is certainly a confidence-builder I’m sure for Marty and Aaron.
“So now it’s nice to see another component that can bring that and can go up and get the ball because that’s the trust factor you need.”
Rodgers’ mind manages information instantaneously and it pushes everyone on the offense to match his internal processor. Bennett sits in awe sometimes when a question is asked in meetings and Nelson blurts out the answer before even Rodgers has a chance to respond.
Another aspect of Rodgers’ fast-break tendencies is the free play the quarterback will generate off a penalty for 12 men on the field or defensive offside, immediately creating an opportunity for a big play downfield.
That next-level communication could be seen on the game-winning play in Dallas when Adams needed only to give Rodgers a simple look to tell him to re-try a back-shoulder fade in the end zone after a low incompletion.
It all is steeped in creative chemistry, hundreds and thousands of in-game reps you can’t simulate in organized team activities. You just have to experience it.
Bennett is getting there. He’s played nearly 300 snaps in the first five games (roughly 84 percent of Green Bay’s total) and ranks third on the offense with 20 catches for 194 yards.
“It’s always evolving. It’s growing,” quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt said. “It’s not something that comes easily, but it’s definitely trending in a positive direction. I think those guys are getting used to each other, body language. I know just that, ‘How’s a guy covering me? What type of throw am I expecting?’… all that communication, that’s a process that takes time. But it’s getting there. They’re obviously connecting more and more.”
The tweaks continue for Bennett, but his contributions are noted. Teammates appreciate his fun-loving approach in the locker room and what he brings to the offense as both a blocker and pass catcher.
When asked about Bennett’s play in Dallas, offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett called his 33-yard catch “one of the best catches you’ll probably see in quite some time.”
With Rodgers at point guard, Bennett knows the fast breaks will keep coming. The only question is whether the veteran tight end should be heading to the hoop or running to the 3-point line.
“I’m a little bit of both,” said Bennett, smiling. “I mix it up. Sometimes if I’m feeling it, I run to the 3-point line. I feel with Aaron, it’s running to the 3-point line. You’re going to shoot deep, like take the 3 more so than going to the rim.”