TAMPA — Arrelious Benn was the third wide receiver drafted in April, and with much fanfare and high hopes, he immediately was deemed one of the Bucs' reasons for optimism coming off a 3-13 season in 2009.
And then he disappeared.
Through most of the preseason and the first three games of the regular season, Benn's playing time was nearly nonexistent, his role barely extending beyond special teams.
But some timely advice from an elder teammate helped Benn keep things in perspective.
"It's what Ronde (Barber) told me," said Benn, speaking of the veteran cornerback and the franchise's interceptions leader.
"He struggled when he was a rookie. He didn't even play — at all. It's just a matter of transition. There's only a few who have come into the league and really made that splash right away."
But, now, the time for that has come.
The Bucs, with a bye week traveling to Cincinnati on Oct. 10, will inject a big dose of Benn into the game plan. And he figures to have a much larger role than Barber did at cornerback during the 1997 season, when he played in just one game and was something of a liability.
Benn spent Wednesday's practice with the starting offense at flanker, where he will either split snaps with Sammie Stroughter or supplant him completely, relegating Stroughter to the role it believes he is better suited for, slot receiver.
So, what took so long? The Bucs always figured that, with Benn, it would be a process. He didn't learn the offense at the pace of split end Mike Williams, who has started the first three games. The reason is twofold: Benn's transition from the University of Illinois was significant given his background in the spread offense; and Benn's position, flanker, is much more complex than split end.
"They ask for a lot as far as blocking," he said. "(Flanker) is kind of like the dirty (job). You have to come down and block ends and block linebackers. (Split end) has one-on-one coverage on the outside. He's on an island."
Thus, the Bucs decided not to rush things.
"I think if you put (rookies) out there too early," receivers coach Eric Yarber said, "you could lose them for a while, especially with their confidence."
Benn has made significant strides in recent practices and, before Sunday's game against the Steelers, in which he made three catches for 33 yards, made a bold proclamation.
"Last week, he looked me in the eye and he said: 'Coach, put me in the game! I'm ready,' " Yarber recalled. "I said, 'That's what I want to hear.' "
The coaching staff heard it from others, too.
"You get those older players who start to come to you and say, 'Hey, Coach, I think (No.) 17 is ready to go,' " coach Raheem Morris said.
So, the Bucs are acting accordingly. Offensive coordinator Greg Olson said Benn would take all the reps in today's final practice of the week, too, giving him a chance to continue to master the offense.
Even though Williams and notable rookies elsewhere have leaped right into prominent roles, Benn has handled his lesser role with maturity.
"It was tough early on," he said. "If I told you it wasn't, I'd be lying. But I look at it like this: The best ones came into the league like that. They all had that hard transition. It's a long season. We just played our third game. … There's a heck of a lot more games to be played."
Coaches were waiting for Benn to reach a comfort level that allowed him to play without hesitation and at full speed. Now that he has reached that level, he has added a dose of self-confidence.
"He's practicing hard and fast, and he has a little swagger about him right now," Yarber said.
And Benn will bring something else to the Bucs: aggression.
At 6 feet 2 and 220 pounds, he matches up better with the bigger cornerbacks that give Stroughter (5-10, 185) problems. And Benn is able to handle the numerous blocking responsibilities of his position, something that can impact the team's lackluster running game.
"Sammie is a 185-pound man who is going to give you every ounce he has, but he'll start breaking down," Yarber said. "Sammie doesn't have any fear, and he goes in there and his 185-pound body is hitting against a 220-pound body. But now we have (Benn) who is ready to play and can really go in and block."
Coaches also believe Benn can be a force in the open field and also display his ability to run through tackles.
And with any luck, Benn will have a better rookie season than the player who gave him that bit of priceless advice.