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With Martellus Bennett out, backups get extra reps

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Updated: September 7, 2014 6:41AM



BOURBONNAIS — The empty chair in the tight ends room was there for a reason: Martellus Bennett was suspended Tuesday after body-slamming first-round pick Kyle Fuller a day earlier.

“I think he wants to keep his teammates safe, and [Monday] that didn’t happen as easily,” tight ends coach Andy Bischoff told the Sun-Times. “We would love to have him in every practice. And he has to manage himself in a way so he can be in every practice.”

How long that will take was an open-ended question Tuesday at Olivet Nazarene University. The Bears would only describe Bennett’s suspension as indefinite, his fine as undisclosed.

“We got a room of guys who love him, from coach to players to guys outside of this room,” Bischoff said. ‘‘But obviously we all would love to have him here. But it’s one of those situations where we’re just moving forward with the lineup we have right now — while encouraging him to work through his process and get back to us.”

Bischoff spoke to Bennett after the suspension, advising him to take care of his body.

‘‘He made a decision to fight and [coach Marc] Trestman made a decision to suspend him,” said Dante Rosario, who took Bennett’s first-team snaps. “You know, we’re a group and we support one another. Every one of us out here works hard. For however long he’s gone, we’ll pick up the slack for him.”

Matthew Mulligan, a block-first tight end, joked he wouldn’t be running slant-and-go routes anytime soon.

“I could never fill Martellus Bennett’s shoes, because he’s Marty,” he said. “He’s a fantastic player, a great teammate. I’m looking forward to getting him back.”

With the preseason opener three days away, the Bears figure to get a longer look at their four backups: Rosario, Mulligan, former Jaguar Zach Miller and five-year vet Jeron Mastrud.

Mulligan is on his seventh team in six years, didn’t play football until college and lives out of extended-stay hotels to stay mobile in a cruel business.

The Maine alum looked around the Miami Dolphins locker room as a rookie and decided to base his career around being an excellent blocker.

‘‘I’m undrafted and from a small school,” he said. “So if you can stand out in one thing — if you can really show a team ‘I do this better than anybody else that we have here’ — I think you have a better opportunity of making it than if you just said you did a lot of things that were OK.”

Mulligan can catch, too.

“Obviously, he’s majoring in the run game and protection,” Bischoff said. “But he minors in the pass game enough to keep people honest and to keep himself on the field.”

So, too, does Mastrud, who played 51 percent of the Oakland Raiders’ snaps last season and profiles as a strong blocker.

Miller, a former college quarterback, has 45 catches in three NFL seasons but none since 2011.

Elevated to No. 1 with Bennett gone, Rosario — whose lone catch last year got him to 100 career — said he didn’t look at the absence as an opportunity, short of getting a few extra repetitions in practice.

“[Rosario] understands me and my demeanor,” Bischoff said. “Our coaches. Our system. He’s steady. He understands his role and works at his role. He comes out every day and works.”

Bennett, whose mood Bischoff described as “steady,’’ will eventually return to work, too.

‘‘I’m just trying to support and love him,” Bischoff said, ‘‘and hope he’s back when the time is right.’’

Email: pfinley@suntimes.com

Twitter: @patrickfinley



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