TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS UPDATE 

lBENNETT'S LEARNING CURVE VERY STEEP

According to St. Petersburg Times staff writer Joanne Korth, Michael Bennett, acquired by the Bucs in a trade 10 days ago, continues to work on learning head coach Jon Gruden's "voluminous and unnaturally verbose" playbook.

It is unlike any Bennett has witnessed with three other teams in seven NFL seasons.

"Every other offense was words to numbers," said Bennett, 29, a former first-round pick by the Vikings in 2001. "This one, you have to deal with numbers, colors, go back to your ABCs again. It's like going from one-plus-one-is-two to pi-equals-this. It's challenging. It makes you study. It makes you learn. You need to know the offense to be out on the field."

Bennett has been immersed in the playbook since he arrived in Tampa, calling on all of his learning skills and techniques: visual, auditory and kinetic. He has watched film, taken pages of notes during meetings, called plays out loud to himself and stayed after practice to go through the motions.

For last week's game at Detroit, Gruden's game plan flipcard listed roughly 200 plays -- about 150 passes and 50 runs. Bennett, after four days of nonstop study, was fluent in 20 of them.

This week, he expects that number to triple.

"It's like coming in during the middle of a movie," running backs coach Art Valero said. "You've got your popcorn in your hand, but you don't know who killed who and who that guy is."

The process began with a pass-concept film compiled by Valero that serves as a playbook primer. After years of teaching the offense to new players, Valero has a system. The running plays are easy; the pass plays a little tricky.

"When I grew up, somebody wrote something on a board and that's how you learned it," said Valero, 49. "We're in such a video world now with TV, Xbox, movies and computers, they have to see somebody do it on film or they can't comprehend it."

Each week, Bennett brings a brand new notebook to the facility. Given a written list of plays for the upcoming opponent by Valero, Bennett writes down his assignment for each play. During meetings, he takes notes as if he were in a history class lecture.

To familiarize himself with how the plays sound, Bennett recites them aloud. Each play can contain as many 12 or 15 words, and quarterbacks spit them out rapid-fire. Valero calls the relationship between the words and the actions they trigger "mnemonic features."

"If you hear the whole thing, you're lost in space. 'What applies to me?'" Valero told Korth. "If you're an offensive lineman, you need to hear the run scheme, snap count. You don't care what the formation is. As a running back, you need to hear the formation, the motion, the protection, the route concept, and then be prepared to read your protection keys. That's got to become second-nature."

Bennett carried the ball three times against the Lions, including an 18-yard burst to the 1 yard line. In the huddle, quarterback Jeff Garcia called a pass play -- the most complicated scenario for Bennett - but advised everyone of a possible run-play audible.

At the line of scrimmage, Garcia changed the play. All Bennett had to do was take the handoff and run.

"I was like, 'Thank you, thank you so much,'" Bennett said.

On Wednesday, when steady rain turned practice into a walk-through, Bennett took all the repetitions. It was the perfect learning tool. He made mistakes. He asked questions. Valero saw the light bulb come on over Bennett's head.

"This is the type of offense where you have to take the reps and have your mess ups," said fullback B.J. Askew, who signed as a free agent in the offseason. "That's why we have to be here for spring and all summer. It didn't take me that long to learn it. I pretty much had it down pat in, oh, about two months."

Two months?

"But I wasn't in the submersion tank," Askew said. "That really overloads you. When I was a rookie, I tried to learn everything in one day, which is what he's doing. It's so much stuff, it all runs together."

According to Korth, just when Bennett thinks he is gaining ground, Gruden changes the plays. The 20 he knew last week are not in the game plan for Sunday against the Jaguars.

"I haven't had a day off, and during the bye week I'll probably be here the whole time, too," Bennett said. "Tuesday night I stayed up until 2 trying to study the stuff from last week. You come in and say, 'Okay, I know this and I know that.' Well, that's all gone.

"With Gruden's offense, it's 110 plays, shred them and throw them away. We'll never run them again until next year. Bring on another 2,000 plays. It's a new week, so I have to learn a foreign language all over again."


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