GREEN BAY – The glasses look good on Edgar Bennett. The Green Bay Packers new wide receivers coach has always been an intelligent fellow, but these days, he looks downright professorial when he puts on his spectacles and talks about his new job.
“I got them during the offseason,” Bennett said with one of his hearty laugh. “You like ‘em?”
Whether they’re the result of eyestrain after all the offseason studying he did to take on the challenge of coaching a new position (moving from coaching running backs, the position he played in the NFL for eight years, to wide receivers) or from old age (he turned 42 a week after Super Bowl XLV, and his son Edgar IV gets his driver’s license this year), Bennett won’t say.
But Bennett will admit that taking over for departed wide receivers coach Jimmy Robinson, who was set to retire before Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett came calling, required an incredible amount of preparation during the lockout, and if there’s one thing Bennett has been as a player, as an administrator (he served as player programs director/director of player development from 2001 through ’04) and as a position coach, it’s thorough.
“Definitely been a lot of reading, a lot of Power Point,” Bennett explained after practice one night last week. “Nothing that I wasn’t already doing; you just try to continue to develop your skills. But certainly, this offseason was a little bit different as far as learning all the details of the wide receiver position.”
Ever since former head coach Mike Sherman made him the running backs coach in 2005 – while working as player programs director, Bennett came to virtually every practice, serving as a quasi-assistant to veteran running backs coaches Johnny Roland and Sylvester Croom during that time – Bennett has been a bear for detail. A player himself with the Packers (1992-’97) and Chicago Bears (1998-’99), Bennett constantly harped on fundamentals with his running backs, drilling them as far as ball security, blocking technique, alignments and footwork.
He’s taken the same approach with his new pupils – Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, James Jones, Jordy Nelson, Brett Swain, Randall Cobb and a handful of youngsters – who just might make up the best receiving corps in the NFL.
“It’s going great. He’s very detailed, very, very opinionated about certain things, which helps because we can collaborate and have dialogue on different angles,” said Jennings, who earned his first Pro Bowl selection last season and blossomed into a bona fide NFL star under Robinson.
“I think he’s going to pull the best out of us because he played and he knew what it took. He had one of those (Super Bowl) rings as a player (in 1996) and now as a coach. He’s on both ends of things, from a running point standpoint as far as us getting our hands on guys in the run game and being more physical when we get the ball. I think he brings a lot to the table. We’re growing together.”
While coaching running backs came naturally to him because of his experience at the position as a player and his internship under Croom and Roland, Bennett knew he had much to learn about coaching receivers. So he sought the advice not only of coach Mike McCarthy, offensive coordinator Joe Philbin and quarterbacks coach Tom Clements (a former offensive coordinator himself), but also spoke to coaches around the league looking for advice on the keys to coaching the position.
“There’s a ton of detail to it. That’s a big part of the passing game,” Bennett said. “You hear about the timing, the spacing, the separation and things like that. The top of the route, getting off the ball, certain techniques against press (coverage) – there’s a number of fundamentals and techniques that we work on.
“Most of this information, it was in the playbook as far as the concepts. Is it a route by steps vs. depth? What’s the split? Very important details like that. From that standpoint, it’s information that’s right there.”
Helping the transition is that Bennett has a relatively veteran group of players to work with, with Driver entering his 13th NFL season, Jennings his sixth, Jones his fifth and Nelson his fourth. Cobb, a rookie who won’t turn 21 until Aug. 22, appears to be mature beyond his years. That should allow Bennett, whom McCarthy believes is on track to someday be an offensive coordinator or perhaps an NFL head coach, to avoid his own growing pains in the job.
“I’d say it’s gone pretty smooth,” said McCarthy, who tabbed Bennett to replace Robinson, then chose assistant offensive line coach Jerry Fontenot, who played center as a player, to replace Bennett. “I think Edgar and Jerry both have made a pretty smooth transition.
“Definitely, the sky is the limit for Edgar Bennett. He’s got a lot of great coaching years in front of him. He’s done it the right way. He’s got everything. He’s an excellent communicator, he’s got a tremendous work ethic, he really has a very good rapport with his players, and he has a very good understanding of the offense.
Bennett’s primary focus with his receivers will be making sure they reduce the number of drops they had last season. According to STATS, which keeps the NFL’s official statistics, Driver led the team with seven drops during the regular season. Jones was next with six, while Nelson and Jennings had four each.
“It’s just fundamentals. We make those our areas of emphasis,” Bennett said of the drops. “You’ll see drills designed to target those areas, no different than what we did with the running backs. We’ll continue to work on those areas. I think those guys are off to a good start.
“For the most part, it is concentration. Sometimes, it’s trying to run before you look the ball all the way in and taking your eye off the ball. In this business, you’ve got to focus on looking that ball all the way in.”
Bennett, meanwhile, isn’t taking his eye off the ball, either. He’s focused not on improving his resume for another promotion but on helping the team to another Super Bowl.
“Any time you’ve got guys of the caliber that we have at this position, it’s exciting to work with these guys,” Bennett said. “It started in the meeting room and having a conversation with them, talking to them about our target areas, some of the things that we want to work on and get better on every day at practice.
"We come out here with a purpose, and that’s to get better. I’m excited. There’s nothing like stepping between those white lines and being a part of something special. I’m excited about it, extremely excited about it.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today,” and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.