TAMPA — For Bucs receiver Arrelious Benn, Saturday's preseason game against the Dolphins couldn't kick off soon enough.
It might have looked and felt like just another exhibition game to most. But for Benn, the game marked the conclusion of nearly nine frustrating months of waiting and hoping.
After a December knee injury that involved a torn anterior cruciate ligament, Benn finally made his return to action Saturday.
"I was real anxious," Benn said after the 17-13 victory. "I had to calm myself down. (Receivers) coach (Eric) Yarber did a great job of calming me down. I just went out there to fly around and have some fun. I couldn't wait to get hit."
And if you didn't know about Benn's injury and subsequent surgery, nothing in his play Saturday would have offered a hint.
Benn started and caught one pass for 12 yards and rushed 11 yards on an end-around, a play the Bucs believe he is ideally suited for. But more important, he didn't feel any effects from the injury. Benn has been far along in his recovery since June, when he began running routes with quarterback Josh Freeman in player-organized workouts during the lockout.
But the knee hadn't been tested to the extent it would in game action. The results affirmed exactly what Benn was hoping for.
"I actually forget about my knee until somebody asks me how my knee feels," he said. "It feels good. I felt like I didn't even get hurt."
Now, it's a matter of Benn again finding his place in the offense. When he went down in Week 16 against Seattle, Benn had recently carved out a prominent role for himself. While Mike Williams is the split end, the outside receiver who gets the majority of the deep balls, Benn, the flanker, has proved he is adept at turning short passes into long gains. And he also showed an ability to get vertical with receptions of 53 and 64 yards.
Benn's snaps on Saturday came at the expense of the emerging Dezmon Briscoe, who has shined during training camp and the preseason. It's expected he will have a package of plays as coaches attempt to involve him, but Benn's unique talents are something the Bucs are intent on taking advantage of, too.
"He's a guy who has a lot of burst for us," coach Raheem Morris said. "He provides a lot of spark. He's a physical guy. He's going to catch that one pass and knock some tacklers off of him, shed some tackles. He's exciting. We're going to try to look at that every week, if we can.
"If we can get some explosive plays from Arrelious Benn, and the consistent play we've been getting from all the other guys, we're really going to love that."
An important key for Benn is his current grasp of the offense compared with this time last year. The second-round pick struggled to learn his duties as a rookie, largely because of the volume of information flankers are required to know. Also a factor was the sharp contrast between the Bucs offense and that of the University of Illinois, where he played in college.
Because of his understanding of the offense, Benn is playing more naturally and less mechanically, he said.
"I felt totally different than last year," he said. "Now I understand the game. Last year was just a learning process for me."
Even so, Benn managed 25 receptions for 395 yards despite playing only sparingly for the first quarter of the 2010 season. Those totals were good enough to rank fourth and third, respectively, on the team.
What can Benn do this season? That will become clearer when the regular season begins in two weeks. But whatever impact he ends up having, Benn is adamant his knee injury won't be factor.
"I've taken it one day at a time, even one practice at a time," he said. "All that's out the window for me. I got hurt but that was last year. If you're going by what happened last year, then that's on you. It's a new year."