Martellus Bennett’s fight with Kyle Fuller raises red flag for Bears
BY MARK POTASH Staff Reporter August 4, 2014 10:23PM
Updated: August 5, 2014 8:43AM
BOURBONNAIS — There’s a fine line between being the Class Clown and a Bad Actor — and Martellus Bennett crossed it Monday afternoon.
The ever-entertaining Bennett, whose 65 receptions and 759 yards last season make him the most prolific Bears tight end since Mike Ditka, revels in his own free-spirited persona — the “Black Unicorn” is the most prominent of his many nicknames. He’s a likable, affable guy with eclectic tastes who sees things a little differently than everybody else and loves to talk about it. There’s a reason why television cameras camp out in front of his locker every week. He’s an automatic sound bite.
That he’s over-the-top in everything he does is a matter of opinion. But it wasn’t on Monday, when Bennett took exception to an aggressive play by rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller in an 11-on-11 red-zone drill and started an altercation that was so egregious it forced coach Marc Trestman to end practice immediately and get his team’s mental focus in order.
After Bennett caught a pass from Jay Cutler around the 5-yard line, Fuller tried to strip the ball, and in the process of reaching for the ball, he pulled Bennett to the ground.
Bennett immediately popped up, shoved Fuller and then threw the first-round draft pick to the ground. Shea McClellin and Jon Bostic helped pull Bennett off Fuller, but Bennett still was visibly upset and had to be counseled by several teammates — Lamarr Houston, Matt Forte, Jordan Palmer and an animated Brandon Marshall among them — before he settled down.
Though it was the most violent of the four altercations so far in nine training-camp practices, coach Marc Trestman considered it a family squabble that he would deal with internally.
“We really are a family. And families fight,” Trestman said. “We’ve got to continue to talk through it. They’re disciplinary issues certainly in terms of hurting a football team — if this would resonate on a Sunday afternoon … it hurts our football team dramatically in all three phases. And our players understand that.”
Well, not all of them do.
“I come to training camp for one reason and that’s to prepare for a championship,” Bennett said. “Every single play I scratch and claw for it. That’s the way I play every single day. I’m probably one of the most violent people on the field. That’s my style of play. I’m going to continue to play the way I play.”
It’s a good bet that Trestman and general manager Phil Emery will try to make a minor adjustment to Bennett’s thinking. Because no matter what the circumstances, you cannot throw the team’s first-round draft pick to the ground and try to beat the crap out of him — especially 30 minutes after Marquess Wilson suffered a broken right clavicle attempting a diving catch of deep ball. That’s not a family fight. It’s a recipe for disaster.
Amazingly, it’s still unclear whether Bennett gets that. Because he sure didn’t Monday. To wit:
Are you concerned about a fine?
“I can afford it,” Bennett said. “I don’t see what he can fine me for on that.”
What did you take exception to?
“I don’t even know. It really doesn’t matter now,” Bennett said. “[Shoot], it’s a whole ‘nother day now. I’m getting ready to meet and eat lunch. I’m hungry right now. What’s on the field is on the field.”
Do you agree that those kinds of altercations are a detriment to the team?
“It’s practice. Practice is practice,” Bennett said. “I sound like Allen Iverson right now. You learn from it. Everything’s not perfect.”
If Bennett learned anything from that incident, it wasn’t evident Monday afternoon. It’s up to Trestman to change that. All it should take is a simple appeal to Bennett’s ego and his professed desire “to help the Bears win a championship”: If he gets ejected from a game, the drop-off is steep — from the best tight end since Ditka to Dante Rosario, Zach Miller, Matthew Mulligan and Jeron Mastrud.
The Bennett-Fuller dust-up might end up being an isolated incident, but it’s a red flag nonetheless. Martellus Bennett is a Pro Bowl-caliber tight end and a good teammate who defers to more productive players in the offense. But on the field and off he’s an acquired taste that is not for everybody.
“I’m not here for friendships,” Bennett said.
That’s all well and good. You don’t have to make friends to be part of a winning team. But you definitely have to avoid making enemies.