TAMPA — The most frustrating day of the week for Michael Bennett is the day he once looked forward to most.
The Bucs' seldom-used veteran running back has not seen his role expanded as he thought it might this season. With the Bucs visiting Kansas City on Sunday to play his former team, Bennett remains respectful of his coaches' decisions but continues to be discouraged by his inactivity.
"For me, it's never about the money," he said. "I've been there. I've made enough. I'm comfortable. It's just that the reward is on Sunday. I still get those goose bumps (at) every kickoff. I have that competitive (spirit). I want to be out there. For the last seven years, (I have been)."
That's the hardest part for Bennett, buried at third on the depth chart. He has been a starter in the NFL, once running for 1,296 yards and being named to the Pro Bowl after the 2002 season with the Vikings.
But with Earnest Graham and Warrick Dunn handling the heavy lifting this season, Bennett has been limited to five carries for 11 yards. What makes it harder to digest is the fact that Bennett was traded to Tampa Bay last season with hopes of being a significant addition to the offense with Cadillac Williams and Michael Pittman injured at the time.
But when Bennett, 30, understandably struggled to master the offense after the midseason deal, his role remained somewhat limited. Still, he had 41 carries in eight games for 189 yards. After being re-signed to a three-year deal in March, he has been inactive for half the team's eight games, including Sunday at Dallas.
"Last year, I got here on the fly," Bennett said. "Now, it's like, 'Man, you're going through the same thing again.' But I'll be patient and wait it out."
The wait could end Sunday. With Dunn missing practice for a second straight day Thursday, the Bucs remain uncertain about his status.
"Right now, we don't think he's physically ready to go," coach Jon Gruden said. "We'll see where he is (today)."
As Bennett prepares to return to Kansas City, he reflected this week on his time there, comparing that experience to this one. It was markedly different.
"I played more there," he said. "I was active every week, and I got a chance to play. Maybe not a whole lot more, but at least 15, 20 plays a game — somewhere. But I'm healthy, my body feels great, and I'm ready to go. So, whenever No. 29 gets called up to do his job, I'm definitely going to be prepared and ready to do it."
Gruden said he could understand Bennett's feelings. But he defended his use of his running backs and emphasized the Bucs' apparent willingness to play anybody and everybody.
"The last two years, honestly, we've played as many players as anybody in football," Gruden said. "If you chart the number of guys we've played at each position, you know that we're going to play you. In fairness to the situation, the two halfbacks (Dunn and Graham) have played extremely well, and, given our situation, we only dressed four backs (two running backs, two fullbacks) for the first seven weeks."
Perhaps this week will be different.
"I cross my fingers and hope so," Bennett said. "It's been tough just to sit back. As a competitor, you always want to be out there. I've even said: 'I could even play some defense. I'll do this. I'll do that.' But you just have to be patient, and hopefully I get a chance to go out and show the Buccaneers fans and the rest of the NFL that I still have it."
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.