It’s a strange feeling, one he doesn’t remember having in his NFL career.
“I'm definitely rejuvenated,” Benn said recently. “I just feel totally different than I did last year -- and I thought I felt good last year, but I feel a lot different this year. I'm coming back and I'm becoming myself, my old self.”
This was the first offseason Benn has had in which he hasn’t had to rehab an injury, and that has helped him finally feel as if he can thrive. It might not be the role he envisioned when he was drafted in the second round in 2010 by Tampa Bay, but after seven frustrating seasons Benn will take being a special teams stalwart and contributor on offense.
“I look at it as be the guy that goes out there and makes plays,” Benn said. “Be the X factor. Whether it's special teams or offense, I look at myself to just be an X factor; go in there and be a game-changer.”
Coach Doug Marrone views Benn as a key part of the Jaguars’ plans in 2017 and uses him as an example to the younger players of how a professional football player should approach the game, prepare and perform. Marrone compares Benn to former New Orleans linebacker Sam Mills, who unselfishly played special teams during his career despite being a five-time Pro Bowler.
Marrone sees that kind of leadership from Benn.
“I think the one guy who comes to mind [as an example of Mills’ leadership] for just a quick statement would be Arrelious Benn, the way he goes about his business,” said Marrone, who was teammates with Mills in 1989. “He does the same at receiver. He does the same at special teams. He goes about his business, and I think that … he has done an outstanding job. I’m extremely happy with the way he goes about his business as a pro, especially from the [special] teams standpoint and obviously on the offensive standpoint.”
Benn’s biggest contribution in 2017 will be on special teams, where the Jaguars believe he can be one of the league’s better players. It didn’t take Benn long to show the kind of impact he can make. In the preseason opener against New England, he lined up as a gunner on the punt team, raced down the field and tackled returner Cyrus Jones for no gain on the Jaguars’ first punt.
Those aren’t the kind of plays Benn thought he’d be making the NFL when he decided to forgo his senior season at Illinois, but injuries decimated his career. Benn was drafted by Tampa Bay in the second round in 2010 (39th overall pick). He caught 25 passes for 395 yards and two touchdowns as a rookie and followed that up with 30 catches for 441 yards and three touchdowns in 2011.
He played in eight games in 2012 before being placed on IR with a torn ACL as well as a shoulder injury. The Bucs traded him to Philadelphia, but he missed the 2013 season after tearing his ACL in training camp.
Benn suffered a back injury late in the 2014 preseason and was placed on IR before being waived with an injury settlement.
He signed with the Jaguars in January 2015 and had a good training camp and appeared to be headed for a roster spot as the Jaguars’ fourth or fifth receiver until he broke his collarbone in a preseason game against the New York Giants. He ended up on IR for the fourth year in a row.
Benn played in 15 games last season and caught five passes for 116 yards and a touchdown, a 51-yard catch-and-run late in the fourth quarter of the Jaguars’ 17-16 victory over Chicago. That was his first touchdown in nearly five years (Dec. 24, 2011 against Carolina while he was playing for Tampa Bay).
Now, as he approaches 30 (Benn turns 29 next month), Benn is finally in a good place mentally and physically and is embracing any way he can get on the field. Spending the past eight months with a clear mind has been wonderful.
“It felt good to not have to concentrate on just becoming healthy and not having to concentrate on, ‘Man, I’m hurt; I’m always hurt,’” Benn said. “I think I left the last season off on a good note and [trying to] build on that.”