Bennett Looking to Fill Some Very Big Shoes in 2013
By Tony Gerdeman
Photo by Jim Davidson
COLUMBUS, Ohio — When Johnathan Hankins decided to forgo his senior season and submit his name for the NFL Draft last December, the Buckeyes were left with a literal and figurative gaping hole on their defensive line.
Hankins, a 6-foot-3 322-pound wall of bad karma, was named a First-Team All-Big Ten player last season, as well as a First-Team All-American by some. He was a disruptive force, an immoveable object, and now he is gone.
In his place is Michael Bennett, who is also a 6-foot-3 defensive lineman. Weighing in at just 285 pounds, however, he will not remind anyone of Hankins physically.
But then, that's not what is being asked of him.
Photo by Dan Harker
As a freshman in 2011, Bennett showed tremendous quickness playing in various spots on the defensive line. He finished with 17 tackles and three sacks. The only Buckeye who accounted for more sacks was John Simon.
Much was expected of Bennett in 2012, but a preseason groin injury derailed those expectations. He played in just eight games on the year, starting twice. He finished with 11 tackles and a sack. However, that one sack did come in the Michigan game last season.
Bennett is currently healthy and is expecting to be a much more productive player in 2013.
"I would like to say that I haven't played up to my potential yet," he said.
Photo by Jim Davidson
"Last year, I was coming off of some injuries, but I did alright against that team up north. But overall I didn't do as well as I should have. I'm going to be hard on myself, my coaches are going to be hard on me, and my teammates are going to be hard on me, but hopefully this year I play up to my potential."
That potential features a player quicker than his size should allow, and faster then most at the position can manage. He is a natural pass rusher, but will also have to be able to handle the running game. Bennett will be asked to do the same things that Hankins did, even though he's a much different player.
"It's pretty different," said Buckeye offensive guard Andrew Norwell when asked to compare Bennett and Hankins.
"He [Bennett] bursts out and he's got a good inside move. But Hank was just a big load to move. Michael Bennett is quick and fast. Those are the main differences."
That speed and quickness, in limited time, allowed Bennett to amass the same number of sacks (4) as Hankins over the last two seasons. But Hankins was one of the more active defensive tackles in the conference during that time, which is now a tendency that Bennett is going to have to follow.
For a guy who has played several spots on the defensive line, having his new long-term home be at the same three technique defensive tackle spot that Hankins heled will not be easy. However, Bennett is certainly up to the challenge.
"I go where the team needs me, and right now they like me in the three technique," he said.
"So I do everything I can in there to produce and let the young guys do their work on the outside. The three technique is fun in its own way, but it's also a lot harder for a smaller guy to play. At the same time, it's a good challenge and it's a definite way for me to make a mark on the team."
Bennett's size might make life a bit difficult for himself at times, but it's his speed and burst that should make life much more difficult for those who are trying to block him.
However, Bennett's success this season also depends on him staying healthy. The healthier he is, the better he plays. The better he plays, the more confident he becomes. The more confident he becomes, the closer he comes to reaching his vast potential.
This is not lost on his coaches.
"We need Michael Bennett," defensive line coach Mike Vrabel said.
"Michael Bennett needs some confidence in himself, and he's gaining it. Michael has got to stay healthy. He understands that he's got to stay healthy and take care of his body. It's not easy in there, but we expect him to do that."
There will be an abundance of expectations placed on Bennett this season, and while he may not occupy the same amount of space as Johnathan Hankins, he can still create just as much havoc.
After all, disruption has never come with a shoe size.
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