Pack­ers’ locker room gets a makeover

Ad­di­tion of Ben­nett shakes up cul­ture

Packer Plus - - Commentary - ROB REISCHEL Send email to ro­breis­

For more than a decade now, the Green Bay Pack­ers locker room has largely been a char­ac­ter-free zone.

Play­ers with larger-than-life per­son­al­i­ties like Chad John­son (who later be­came Chad Ochocinco), Jim “Su­per Bowl Shuf­fle” McMa­hon or a play­boy like Joe Na­math sim­ply wouldn’t fly in Ted Thomp­son’s Green Bay.

While Thomp­son un­doubt­edly has size and speed ra­tios when he ac­quires play­ers, it’s of­ten felt like he’s had sound re­quire­ments, as well. And ba­si­cally, the only rule is that “less is more.”

Un­der Thomp­son, Green Bay’s locker room has been packed largely with vanilla per­son­al­i­ties. Rocky road and rain­bow sher­bet are for other teams.

But hold onto your scoop­ers. Things are about to get re­ally in­ter­est­ing.

The Pack­ers be­gan their off-sea­son pro­gram this week, and 2017 could be one of the more en­ter­tain­ing in re­cent me­mory. At least when it comes to per­son­al­i­ties.

When Thomp­son signed free-agent tight end Martel­lus Ben­nett last month, he did two things.

First, and most im­por­tantly, Thomp­son gave Green Bay one of the top five tight ends in foot­ball and its most com­plete player at that po­si­tion since Mark Ch­mura. Sec­ond, Thomp­son livened up the locker room and made his team more in­ter­est­ing — at least off the field — than it’s been in years.

What’s next? A spot on Hard Knocks?

“He’s a bit of a re­nais­sance man, and I think that’ll be a good thing, a fun thing,” Thomp­son told re­porters in Phoenix re­cently dur­ing the NFL’s own­ers’ meet­ings. “Maybe he’ll ed­u­cate my­self and some of the play­ers.”

Re­nais­sance man is one way to put it. Out­spo­ken, can­did, hon­est, re­fresh­ing is an­other.

Dur­ing a re­cent con­fer­ence call with Wis­con­sin me­dia mem­bers, Ben­nett was asked where he was at the time.

“I’m on earth,” he said. “And it’s big, be­cause I’m not al­ways on earth.”

He’s not kid­ding. And wher­ever Ben­nett has been, it’s al­most al­ways been amus­ing.

Con­sider a few of his most out­landish state­ments in re­cent sea­sons:

Ben­nett, who played for Chicago from 2013-’15, was asked about those Bears team­mates. “We just had a bunch of bitches on the ros­ter. That’s why we didn’t win games. And coaches like the bitches.”

Ben­nett wasn’t as wowed by Dis­ney’s hit movie “Frozen” as the rest of the world. “In ‘Frozen,’ there’s not one black char­ac­ter in Aren­delle,” he said. “I don’t even know where Aren­delle is, but there’s gotta be a black per­son some­where. One of us made it over there, god­damn it.”

And when Ben­nett was traded to New Eng­land in 2016, he said, “Dr. Seuss said, ‘No one can be you-er than you.’ Os­car Wilde said, ‘Be your­self, be­cause ev­ery­one else is taken.’ I can only be one per­son. I just try and continue to be who I am and don’t change that. I’m a lit­tle chameleon. I just try and fit in wher­ever I am. When you’re au­then­tic, peo­ple ap­pre­ci­ate that.”

Ben­nett is open and hon­est and will dis­cuss ev­ery­thing from NASA to rap mu­sic. Ben­nett has dubbed him­self a “black uni­corn” and called him­self the Kanye West of the NFL. He plays the trom­bone, the trum­pet and clar­inet and lists Dr. Suess and Harry Pot­ter among his heroes. Ben­nett even pub­lishes chil­dren’s books with his com­pany, The Imag­i­na­tion Agency.

Ben­nett has bashed former Bears quar­ter­back Jay Cut­ler and NFL com­mis­sioner Roger Good­ell. And Ben­nett, who be­gan his ca­reer in Dal­las, said that Cow­boys tight end Ja­son Wit­ten treated him much like Brett Favre once did to Aaron Rodgers.

“I hated Ja­son Wit­ten,” Ben­nett said. “I ap­pre­ci­ated his game, but I al­ways hated him.”

Op­po­nents might hate try­ing to de­fend Ben­nett this sea­son.

Ben­nett, who de­clared for the NBA draft right out of high school but later changed his mind, had a some­what slow start to his NFL ca­reer. Over the last five sea­sons, though, Ben­nett has av­er­aged 63.6 re­cep­tions and 5.2 touch­downs per sea­son.

At 6-foot-6, 275 pounds, Ben­nett once ran the 40-yard dash in 4.68 se­conds — the ex­act time New Eng­land’s Rob Gronkowski did. And even at 30 now, Ben­nett runs well enough to pose in­cred­i­ble mis­matches for safeties and lineback­ers ev­ery­where.

Mak­ing Ben­nett even more danger­ous is the fact he’s one of the few tight ends in to­day’s NFL that blocks as well as he re­ceives.

“To me, he is one of the best or po­ten­tially be the best tight end in the Na­tional Foot­ball League,” Pack­ers coach Mike McCarthy said at the NFL own­ers’ meet­ings. “It’s my re­spon­si­bil­ity to make sure I cre­ate those op­por­tu­ni­ties for him to suc­ceed. He has very good tape. He was a very pro­duc­tive player in an out­stand­ing of­fense.”

Green Bay’s of­fense, which caught fire in the sec­ond half of the 2016 sea­son, fig­ures to be even bet­ter with Ben­nett in tow.

And things could be­come even more in­ter­est­ing off the field.

“I’m kind of get­ting used to win­ning now, you know what I’m say­ing?” Ben­nett said at the end of the 2016 reg­u­lar sea­son. “At first, it’s like, ‘Yeah!’ It’s like the first time hav­ing sex. And then your sec­ond time and the your third time, it’s like, ‘Oh yeah, it’s pretty cool. I’m get­ting bet­ter at it.’ It’s re­ally fun.”

Yep, hav­ing Ben­nett in Green Bay is go­ing to be a whole lot of fun.

Former Pa­tri­ots tight end Martel­lus Ben­nett, now with the Pack­ers, cel­e­brates after the AFC ti­tle game.

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