Bennett looks like real deal at tight end

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Martellus Bennett has no doubt that one day soon, he will be a star.

Bennett took a big step toward that dream Thursday night. Quarterback Eli Manning targeted Bennett seven times, and the latter caught six passes -- including a 14-yard toss that was the Giants' first touchdown and pushed them on their way to their 36-7 victory over the Panthers.

"I've always thought I was one of the best at the tight end position," Bennett said. "I just never had a chance to get out there and show it. I think this is my chance to show it."

You could see this coming. After four years backing up Jason Witten in Dallas, Bennett came to New York for reps and possibly a reputation. There were four catches for 40 yards and a score in the season opener, five for 72 and a TD last Sunday, and now six for 73 and another touchdown Thursday night.

"I think in the NFL, a lot of defenses knew I could play, but my role was different in the past," Bennett said. "This is my fifth year in the league and I want to be mentioned with the best in the league. When you talk about guys like Jimmy Graham, Vernon Davis and [Rob Gronkowski], I want to be in that same conversation.

"(Tight ends) Coach (Mike) Pope thinks I have a huge chance to be really good, and that's what I'm working for."

You could see it all come together on his touchdown catch, but let Bennett explain:

"It was single-high coverage; the free safety was cheating a little bit over to the right, so I just had to beat my guy one-on-one. I stretched him out, gave him a nice little move and slipped inside him for the touchdown."

Outstanding speed and quickness is built into Bennett's 6-foot-6, 265-pound frame. And, after an offseason where he worked to become leaner and faster, he makes you glad you're not a strongside linebacker.

"Really, I was just looking for an opportunity," Bennett said. "I had to come in here and earn the reps I was going to get. There are a lot of things I'm still learning and need to get better at, and I am getting better at them as the season progresses."

A nagging injury slowed him over the summer. "I really didn't get to do anything in minicamps and OTAs, and training camp was short this year," Bennett said. "So I've been learning on the go, with a lot of extra studying for me, and a lot of time in the film room. Eli's here and I'm his shadow.

"The best thing about here is that everyone has confidence in me. The thing for me is building confidence in a game, and that's something I've been able to do my first couple of games. I hadn't really had a lot of success in games yet, so this is my first chance to make plays."

On Thursday, the Panthers helped by spending most of the evening in soft zone coverage.

"Yeah, they played us soft," Bennett said. "Last week there were a lot of deep balls because they played us man, and we took advantage of it then. This week they were playing a little bit more (zone), and we were able to make the right reads, and all the guys made plays when they could."

Bennett was one of those guys. And, at age 25, he should be for the foreseeable future.

"I've had some rough times in the past," he said, "but my wife is saying, 'Baby, your time is coming.' Here everyone has my back, and that's something new for me and just makes me play that much harder.

"This season is a first step for me; I feel like my career is just getting started."