GREEN BAY — Martellus Bennett is cautious in his delivery.
The Green Bay Packers veteran tight end doesn’t want to offend his new boss, coach Mike McCarthy, or his new favorite quarterback, Aaron Rodgers. So Bennett chooses his words carefully when he makes his suggestions. And after a year with New England’s Bill Belichick and Tom Brady last year — and eight seasons with four other NFL teams — he’s got plenty of them.
Bennett likes to say he brings “perspective,” which is true. He also brings something else that’s been in short supply at 1265 Lombardi Avenue for the last decade or so — experience with an NFL team other than the Packers.
“Some of the same plays we run, but we may have a different philosophy on things (than those teams),” Bennett explained in advance of Sunday’s regular-season opener against the Seattle Seahawks at Lambeau Field. “I may tell Aaron, ‘When I was with Tom, I didn’t know this either, but we’d run this route, he wanted me to look a little bit earlier because that sweet spot was right there … what do you think about that?’ That’s how I’ll always approach him. Because some of the things that I learned from Tom made a lot of sense and nobody else was doing it.
“Same thing with Bill Belichick. Bill might do some stuff that I may tell Mike, ‘Man, there was one thing that Bill did that I thought was genius. I know you do it this way, but have you ever thought about such-and-such?’ You don’t want them to be like, ‘Whatever.’”
Bennett need not worry about getting a “Whatever” response. Both McCarthy and Rodgers are embracing general manager Ted Thompson’s out-of-character decision to add so many veterans from other teams — a whopping seven with the arrival of two ex-San Francisco 49ers, outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks and defensive tackle Quinton Dial, this week. Accustomed to the homogeneous environment the team’s draft-and-develop approach has created, both men are liking the infusion of ideas that come with veterans whose entire careers haven’t been spent in Titletown.
That doesn’t mean massive changes are being instituted, but at least new thoughts are in the mix.
“I still don't think we have so many guys that played elsewhere that it’s really going to change the landscape of our locker room,” McCarthy explained. “(But) Marty Bennett and I had a long conversation — they’re never short with Marty — the other day. We were just talking about training camp, different things. I think it’s important as a head coach to always evaluate everything you’ve been doing and be open to fresh ideas and see how they fit. And I thought some of the things he talked about, about his past experiences in training camp in other NFL cities, it was definitely something I got a lot out of.”
Rodgers has had even more of those conversations. Although still clearly perturbed that the Packers allowed veteran free agents like T.J. Lang, Julius Peppers and Micah Hyde to depart — “We also lost a lot,” Rodgers quickly pointed out when asked about the additions — Rodgers spent much of the offseason and training camp seeking out input and ideas from his new guys.
And those talks aren’t exclusive to offensive players like Bennett, tight end Lance Kendricks or right guard Jahri Evans. Rodgers also seeks input from defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois, who’s on his fourth team and has quickly gained respect inside the locker room.
“I think you have to understand that this is an insulated place. And when you’re here for a such a long time, you have to fight against the complacency of doing things the way you’ve been doing it every single year. You have to adjust and adapt and evolve,” Rodgers explained. “Just this morning, I was talking with Ricky Jean about how he feels like the locker room is and the team and the leadership and kind of what things have worked in his past.
“(And) Jahri and I have become fast friends and we’ve had some really good conversations about what’s worked in new Orleans for them and things that we can add to our program and our culture to make sure that we’re keeping guys connected the right way and not being stagnant with the culture in the locker room.”
“Talking with Marty about route concepts and different things we've been working on, it's a different conversation with a guy like that compared to a guy who is younger and just out of college. It's a matter of getting those guys comfortable in the locker room, in the system, in the playbook and then allowing their personalities to come out and see how much leadership they're willing to offer. I think that's the fun thing about Marty (is), he's looked for those places where he can be a leader. And that's what you look for from veteran players.”
Even someone like Kendricks, who never went to the playoffs — never even had an above-.500 season — in seven years with the St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams, can contribute. His insight about how losing affects a team might’ve come in handy during last year’s four consecutive losses at midseason.
“We went through a lot of four-game losing streaks,” Kendricks said with a chuckle. “I can laugh about it now. But I’ve been on the side where we faced a lot more adversity than upside. I think as long as you have good leaders, that’s where it starts. You just have to stay the course all the time. You get a lot of guys who are very up and down. and I’ve learned over the years to be very consistent. I guess that’s what I would bring from there to here – being steady, not being on a roller-coaster.”
Of course, some of the new ideas are just for fun — led by Bennett, the self-appointed “Captain of Fun.”
“Sometimes I just play Michael Jackson (on the sound system). That’s not something you usually hear in the locker room, but then everybody’s like, ‘Oooh, Michael Jackson!’ It makes you feel good,” Bennett said. “Or, ‘Hey, I’m thinking about starting a book club. Who’d be interesting in a book club? What do you want to read?’
“I do that all the time. As I got older as a locker-room guy, I’ve seen things that guys like or things that I wouldn’t do. Just little things. When people see that, it’s kind of like, ‘We could do that, too.’”