Martellus Bennett was only 21 when he joined the Dallas Cowboys as a second-round pick. Bennett learned more than he realized in his first four NFL seasons.
The former Texas A&M star discovered that only recently.
“Tony Romo used to … always tell me, ‘Be urgent, but don’t rush,’ ” the New England Patriots tight end said. “I had no idea what the hell that meant, because to me rush and urgent is the same thing. Then, as I got older, like two years ago, I told a rookie, ‘Be urgent, but don’t rush.’ I said, ‘Oh [shoot], I get it. I finally get what he was saying.’ ”
The Cowboys expected more from Bennett than they got. Playing second fiddle to Jason Witten, Bennett caught only 85 passes for 846 yards and four touchdowns. All four of his touchdowns came in his rookie season of 2008.
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I think the biggest frustration might have been more with myself. I feel like if I would have changed my perspective in Dallas, I would probably have more success earlier, but I just wasn’t a backup.
Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett
In the past five seasons, with three teams, Bennett has 318 catches for 3,441 yards and 26 touchdowns.
“When I was in Dallas, I was more of a flash player, which is a player who shows up here and shows up there,” Bennett said. “I think the biggest thing about that was I tried to do so much at one time to show them, ‘Hey, I need more,’ and you’ll drop a ball because you’re already thinking about the first 10 moves you’re going to make to get open.”
Still, owner Jerry Jones tried to re-sign Bennett when he became a free agent in 2012. Instead, Bennett signed with the New York Giants, clearly wanting out of Dallas by taking less money to leave.
Looking back, Bennett said if he had tweaked his perspective “by maybe 36 degrees” he would have enjoyed his time with the Cowboys more.
“I think the biggest frustration might have been more with myself,” Bennett said. “I feel like if I would have changed my perspective in Dallas, I would probably have more success earlier, but I just wasn’t a backup. It was hard to fight that. So I felt I was running on life’s treadmill. Like I put in all this work — all this work — but when I got off the treadmill, I’d be in the same spot I was.
It wasn’t until I left and became a starter that I realized, ‘Man, I’m a lot like Jason Witten the way he took notes ... I do a lot of that stuff now and that’s just from watching the guy that was so great for so long.
Bennett on former teammate Jason Witten
“It never seemed there was a light at the end of the tunnel, no matter what I did or how I did. That was one of the biggest things.”
Bennett listed 12 ex-Cowboys teammates who helped him develop. He never mentioned Witten. In an interview with ESPN.com last summer, Bennett was critical of Witten.
“I hated Jason Witten. I appreciated his game, but I always hated him,” Bennett told the website.
In his one interview this week during his first Super Bowl week, the highly entertaining Bennett didn’t go that far. His only criticism of Witten was that the 14-year veteran didn’t go out of his way to help Bennett.
But Bennett said he learned from Witten just by watching a “Hall of Fame tight end.”
I appreciate that he works really hard. He’s a smart player. He’s a good teammate. He’s very unselfish for us. He’s been a good addition.
Patriots tight ends coach Brian Daboll on Bennett
“It wasn’t until I left and became a starter that I realized, ‘Man, I’m a lot like Jason Witten the way he took notes; the way he did things like that,” said Bennett, who grew up in Houston and graduated from Alief Taylor. “I do a lot of that stuff now and that’s just from watching the guy that was so great for so long.
“ ... He didn’t really talk to me much or help me like that. But he was just doing his job. ‘You want to learn, watch me.’ I’m not frustrated. It was more about the circumstances than about people. We had some issues of things here and there, but overall it was just like no sunlight.”
Bennett explained leaving the Cowboys as only “Marty B” can, talking about the need to escape Witten’s shadow to establish his roots.
“So there’s a tree — a really tall tree — right? And then there’s a shorter tree next to that really tall tree,” Bennett said. “The short tree doesn’t get any sunlight or gets what’s left of the rain. So that tree could never really grow to the height it needs to be.
7 Touchdown catches for Martellus Bennett this season, a career-high
“To me, Jason Witten was that tree. I was that small tree, so I really couldn’t get the sun or the time, the water, my seeds for me to grow the way I could. The only way I could that was uproot that tree and move it to another location so that it could then grow. That’s the only way I could explain the way I felt at that time.”
The Patriots traded for Bennett in the off-season to pair with Rob Gronkowski, but the All-Pro tight end went on injured reserve after back surgery in December.
Bennett has made himself at home in New England, catching a career-high seven touchdowns. His 701 receiving yards were second to Julian Edelman.
“I appreciate that he works really hard,” Patriots tight ends coach Brian Daboll said. “He’s a smart player. He’s a good teammate. He’s very unselfish for us. He’s been a good addition.”
Bennett becomes a free agent in the off-season, but unlike free agency in 2012, Bennett hopes to stay right where he is.
Charean Williams: 817-390-7760, @NFLCharean
Super Bowl LI
Falcons vs. Patriots
5:30 p.m. Sunday, KDFW/4