Bennett in his element at first pro camp
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Anthony Bennett is two weeks into his first professional football training camp and it’s exactly what he thought it would be. That doesn’t mean it’s been an easy ride – quite the opposite, actually – but the recent draft pick of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers has been soaking up every moment.
“It’s more surreal, that you work this hard to get there, but it’s nothing surprising,” Bennett told the Free Press following practice Thursday. “You knew it was going to be faster, it’s going to be harder. Guys are going to be taller. Guys are going to be bigger. Guys are going to be weirdly smaller but they’re faster. It’s all these different scenarios that you prep your mind for and you’re OK with.”
The Bombers selected Bennett, a bruising defensive end whose collegiate career included stints at Florida Atlantic University and the University of Regina, with the eighth overall pick in the CFL Draft earlier this month. The 26-year-old grew up in Florida but was eligible to be selected because his mother is from Regina.
The last couple of weeks have been a crash course in learning the Bombers defensive and special-teams systems and Bennett has been like a sponge. That he gets to work alongside some of the CFL’s top pass-rushers in Willie Jefferson and Jackson Jeffcoat has only helped his development.
“Those guys are an inspiration,” Bennett said. “They just keep me positive the whole time and keep me going after it over and over. They’ve been great.”
Where exactly Bennett fits on the roster this season is still to be determined. Assuming he makes the team, which seems a likely bet, he’ll probably start with a heavy load of special-teams work, with the chance to see some reps on the defensive line as part of a rotation.
Bennett isn’t thinking that far, though, as he’s focused on making a positive impression on his coaches and teammates by giving it his all in each drill. He’ll get a chance to show what he’s learned this weekend, when the Bombers travel to Edmonton to take on the Elks on Saturday, in what is the first of two preseason games over the next two weeks.
“Ultimately, I want to show that I can work in this system,” Bennett said. “I want to show that I can do my job, I can do it well and we can succeed if I’m on the team.”
He added: “I feel like I’ve learned the system pretty well. The biggest thing they (vets, coaches, other players, everybody) say is just don’t be afraid to make a mistake. Just go fly around and have fun.”
Head coach Mike O’Shea said he has liked what he’s seen from Bennett so far in camp. But like any new player, he wants to see him perform in a game against competition other than his teammates.
“He’s a natural pass-rusher,” O’Shea said. “I watched him more closely the other day and his hand placements, his understanding of where the offensive linemen are going to put their hands and how he’s already on top of that with his hands, it’s pretty neat to see.”
Bennett is equally eager to smack pads with an opponent from another team. Players don’t tackle in training camp, so it will be his first taste of action since playing in college.
To play in front of screaming fans again is also something Bennett is looking forward to. He’s been informed by his new teammates Winnipeg has arguably the loudest building in the CFL, which he’ll experience next Friday when the Bombers welcome the Saskatchewan Roughriders to town on June 2.
“It’s the atmosphere of football. There’s nothing quite like it in the world,” Bennett said. “You get to step on the field, step on the turf, you get to play with your family, you get to play for your friends. It’s the kind of atmosphere you just can’t wait to experience. It’s so exciting to have football back.”
After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.
Updated on Friday, May 26, 2023 11:36 AM CDT: Corrects game date.