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Arrelious Benn slow to make preseason impact with Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Arrelious Benn, right, says he’s having fun playing special teams, though he has never played on them other than to return kicks.

SCOTT McINTYRE | Times

Arrelious Benn, right, says he’s having fun playing special teams, though he has never played on them other than to return kicks.

TAMPA — Where has Arrelious Benn been?

Heading into the final preseason game, the Bucs' second-round pick from Illinois has one catch for 16 yards.

He was targeted once in the opener at Miami and once against Kansas City but did not see a football thrown his direction last week vs. Jacksonville.

For a 3-13 team desperate for receiving help and investing heavily in that position in the draft, the Bucs still believe Benn is more prospect than project.

"I know where I'm going to be, and I know how good I'm going to be," Benn said. "It takes time."

But shouldn't Bucs fans expect more from the third receiver taken in the draft with the 39th overall pick, behind only the Broncos' Demaryius Thomas and the Cowboys' Dez Bryant?

In fact, Benn hasn't been the most productive rookie receiver on his team, much less the NFL. Mike Williams, a fourth-round pick from Syracuse, ranks sixth in the league in the preseason with seven catches for 157 yards.

"The unfair part is Arrelious is being compared to Mike," coach Raheem Morris said. "It's unfair to Arrelious because they've got to learn at a different level. They're developing at a different speed. Mike is the clear-cut starting X, and right now Regis (Benn) is coming. He's starting to give you more each day. … The thing you're going to get is that it's going to take a little more time."

As usual, Benn was the last player off the practice field Monday. After a two-hour practice, he caught kickoffs from a machine and extra passes from receivers coach Eric Yarber.

"I'm just out there learning, getting mental reps when I'm watching, and playing time will come," Benn said. "It's preseason, it's a long season ahead of us. The coaches are doing everything they need to do, and I've got faith in everything I'm doing. So I'm going out there doing everything they tell me."

Morris has a point. For starters, Benn is playing the Z position, off the line of scrimmage and on the tight end side. The X receiver position is much easier to learn because all the routes are "tagged" during the play call in the huddle.

"We'll tag the route X dagger, or X Puma," offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. "If you're the X, you'll know the route. With the Z, you've got to know the combination. It's a two-man combination with the tight end on your side and the X is by himself. … As he gets more comfortable with the concepts, then he'll play faster and obviously be more productive."

Last week, Benn didn't enter the game at receiver until late in the second half. That was by design, Olson said, because the Bucs wanted an extended look at veteran Reggie Brown at the Z position.

"We planned on playing Regis in the second half," Olson said. "Unfortunately, we didn't have a lot of snaps there in the second half. This week, Regis will look toward playing the entire football game, and we'll try to script some things to get him the ball."

Benn has been described by Morris and Olson as a "rep guy," which means he learns faster with repetitions on grass than on a chalkboard or in a film room.

It's not uncommon in the NFL, particularly at receiver. But it probably is the reason Benn hasn't been a bigger part of the offense. He's behind Sammie Stroughter and Brown at the Z position, but that could change before the season opener.

"I've got to know the (route) combinations. I can't just learn one thing; I've got to learn the concepts and stuff," Benn said. "I can be moved anywhere in the offense. I won't always be to one side. … I love it. It's a challenge, and I'm taking it on full speed, and I'm going to get better every day.

"I didn't come in here with the expectation that I already know it. Everything is a learning process. It was a learning process when I was in college. It takes time."

It would be hard to find a player on the roster with a better attitude or work ethic than Benn, who is learning to cover kicks as well as return them.

"When I got my first catch and I'm out there, I'm like, 'C'mon, man.' The game is fast, but it's not that fast," Benn said. "It's fun. I go out there and have fun. I go out there and play special teams. I've never done that in my life except kick returns. But when I'm out there now, I'm out there as a flier on my team."

Morris has no doubt Benn will be a factor for the Bucs as a rookie, sooner rather than later.

"The fact is when he's had opportunities, he's made plays. He's had a big block; he's had a play," Morris said. "(People) should be more encouraged about what he's doing as a rookie than comparing him to Mike. It's hard to go out here and play in this league as a rookie, and a lot of guys will tell you that."

Arrelious Benn slow to make preseason impact with Tampa Bay Buccaneers 08/30/10 [Last modified: Monday, August 30, 2010 10:49pm]

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