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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs WR Benn hopes to make powerful return

Published:   |   Updated: March 20, 2013 at 07:47 PM

He could lie on the couch if he wanted, or in bed, whichever he preferred. That was about it. There was to be no excessive walking, no running whatsoever and certainly no football.

Those were the doctor's orders. And in the days after his January surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament, Tampa Bay Buccaneers receiver Arrelious Benn had no problem following all of them.

Except for the last one.

Football players – the hungry ones, anyway – have a burning desire to hone their craft. Benn, who got off to a slow start last year and had his rookie season cut one game short by the knee injury, was very hungry last winter.

"I sat in the house and caught a lot of balls,'' Benn said. "I caught them from my little brother, even caught them from my girlfriend. I just wanted to keep catching balls to know the feeling of it, even if I was laid up.''

A second-round draft pick from Illinois who got lost for a while last year in the shadow cast by fellow rookie wideout Mike Williams, Benn's determination to keep his skills sharp has paid off. Though the Bucs brought him along slowly, limiting his work in contact drills and keeping him out of the first two preseason games, Benn is scheduled to start Saturday night's pivotal third preseason game against the Miami Dolphins at Raymond James Stadium.

"He's been looking great,'' Bucs coach Raheem Morris said. "He's looked powerful, looked strong.''

Benn is expected to start opposite Williams during the regular season, his downfield speed and ability to propel himself out of a break after a catch are nearly back to the form Benn displayed at Illinois and late last season with the Bucs.

Tampa Bay receivers coach Eric Yarber often refers to Benn as a "medical miracle."

Complete tears of the ACL have been known to derail football careers for good, or at least knock players off the tracks for six months. Not Benn.

He was off the couch and back on a football field near his Washington D.C. home sooner than doctors and team trainers thought; sooner, perhaps, than they wanted.

"I was doing things during the lockout that I wouldn't tell the trainers I was doing,'' Benn said. "I did a lot of little things on my own just to keep my body going and keep it right.''

The results are visible. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Benn is thicker through the chest and shoulders than a year ago and running so well Yarber often can't tell which knee was injured. For the record, it was the left.

The improvements are the result of not just determination and work ethic, but also the power of positive thinking and Benn's belief that, like several of his young teammates, he needs to be a leader.

"I never let myself get down (about the injury),'' Benn said. "I always felt like I would come back and do the same things I always did before. I just kept thinking positive thoughts all the time. I never thought negative.

"And now I'm working more on being a real pro, both on and off the field. That's one thing I really want to do this year. I want to stay focused, stay late and watch film after practice and take care of my body better.''

More than anything, he wants to play better – from the start. Coming out of the Illini's spread offense, Benn admits it took him a while to learn the Bucs' pro-style scheme last year.

Once he did, though, the Bucs began to see a return on their investment of a second-round draft pick. He caught 25 passes for 395 yards and two touchdowns last season, including eight for 172 yards in the final two-plus games before injuring his knee against Seattle in December.

The Bucs are counting on more of the same from Benn this season.

"It'll be fun for us to get all that speed back into our offense,'' Morris said. "Really, it's been something that we've been missing. Rejus really brings that speed burst to us, that downfield threat.

"And we've seen him do it before for us. We saw him do it all of last year, really, and hopefully he can pick up right where he left off and get right back in stride.''

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