The key for Packers TE Martellus Bennett: 'Get Marty involved early'

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Don’t be surprised if Aaron Rodgers looks the way of Martellus Bennett early in Sunday’s game against the Dallas Cowboys.

Sure, Bennett has been a focal point for the Green Bay Packers’ offense, but the gem of general manager Ted Thompson’s free-agent class hasn’t quite taken off as many expected.

Rodgers wants that to change.

“We’ve got to get Marty involved early,” Rodgers said after Bennett caught six passes in last Thursday’s win over the Chicago Bears.

Rodgers and coach Mike McCarthy seemed to do that in the 35-14 win. On the eighth play of the opening drive out of a three-tight end set that had run written all over it (third-and-1 from the Bears’ 31), Rodgers used the play-action fake to get Bennett a free release from his spot tight to the right side of the line and flipped a quick pass that Bennett caught at the 20-yard line and took to the 5 for a 26-yard gain.

Rodgers would target Bennett seven times in all. Six were completed but for a total of only 39 yards, or a 6.5-yard average.

“He’s a talented player for us, and we’ve got to continue to find ways to get him going,” Rodgers said. “He felt great after he caught the over route for a big gainer. We just have to keep finding ways to get him involved early in the game.”

It followed what had to be considered a rough three games to start the season for Bennett, who dropped two passes (it would have been double that had two drops not been wiped out by penalty) against the Falcons and one against the Bengals. His three drops rank tied for first among tight ends with Jimmy Graham and tied for third in the league among all players.

“He’s a dynamic player for us,” Rodgers said after Thursday's game. “I think he was in a better place mentally after the last few days, tonight, and he was definitely a big part of what we did.”

It’s not like Bennett has been invisible. His 17 catches through four games are tied for seventh among all tight ends.

But Bennett has yet to have the big game the Packers wanted when they gave him a three-year, $21 million deal in free agency this past spring. In fact, Lance Kendricks, the other (and cheaper) free-agent tight end, has the longest pass play from that position this year -- a 51-yarder against the Bengals. Kendricks also caught a 1-yard touchdown in that game. Bennett doesn’t have a scoring play yet.

It probably would be a mistake to pass judgement on any of the Packers' skill-position players, because all the injuries along the offensive line have forced McCarthy to significantly alter his game plan and playcalling. The Packers have started a different offensive line combination in each of the first four games, while tackles David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga have been injured.

“It’s a long season,” Bennett said. “The season’s still getting started. For me, I left a couple of plays on the field here and there, but it’s just getting used to and getting acclimated to playing in a game-type situation with Aaron and the team and the flow of things. So just try to figure out that, try to get in a good rhythm. I haven’t really been able to get in a rhythm yet. But we’re just getting started, and we’re winning games, that’s all that really matters.

“It doesn’t matter if I have 10 catches or two catches, there’s a lot of stuff I’ll make an impact in the game with; it doesn’t matter if I’m getting the ball or not. If my impact on this week’s game is chipping a lot, I’m going to try to do the best job I can do chipping. If they need me to catch 10 balls, I’m going to try to go catch 10 balls. Every single week is different. I know a lot of the outside people look at statistics, but I just look at W's.”