Landry: Anthony Bennett’s secret to Combine success
There are at least two kinds of pressure, far as I can tell, when it comes to performing in front of prying, evaluating, pro football eyes at a combine.
For some young players, the combine presents an opportunity to get their name into the mix when it comes to conversations about top prospects.
That’s one kind of pressure, the kind that comes with knowing you need to be at your very best in order to leverage the moment. And if you don’t? Pfft. It’s gone and you’ll never get it back.
For others — those who are already thought of as likely high draft picks — there is another kind of pressure. The one that powers the little voice inside one’s head to repeat over and over, “Don’t blow it.”
For defensive lineman Anthony Bennett, last week’s CFL Combine Presented by New Era would have come with pressure of the latter kind, coming in as he did as the 13th-highest rated prospect in the winter edition of the CFL’s Scouting Bureau.
Lots of eyes were on the University of Regina Rams grad as the top draft-eligible Canadian players were put through their paces over five days of evaluation. Bennett needed to cement his status as one of the best young defensive linemen available to CFL teams ahead of the draft on May 2. He feels he did just that, after setting some pretty broadly-defined goals for himself.
For the 26-year-old native of Weston, Fla., the young man with a Canadian mother (Regina native Patricia) and an American father (Charles, who played one game for the Saskatchewan Roughriders during the 1980s) it was simply about tossing aside the pressure to prove, and then just playing naturally and intelligently.
“Ultimately,” said the six-foot, 229-pounder of his intentions, “it was fly around, play fast and make sure I walked out unhurt.”
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At the combine, Bennett’s testing measurables were, you could say, a bit of a mixed bag. In the defensive lineman category, he finished down the list in things like bench press (seventh), vertical (eighth) and broad jump (fifth). He was, though, the fastest defensive lineman in the 40, clocking a 4.76 and in the agility tests (three-cone, shuttle) he was again No. 1 among defensive linemen.
In pads and on the field, Bennett did as expected and perhaps a little more. On Day 3 he was listed as an honourable mention for the coaches’ pick for defensive player of the day.
Bennett played various positions during his university football career, first with Florida Atlantic University and then with the Rams, where he set a team single-season record with eight sacks in 2022, on the way to being named a First Team All-Canadian and Canada West All-Star. He also tied the Rams’ record for tackles-for-loss in a season, with 10.5. He scored a 28-yard pick-six in a game against Calgary last September. In the Rams’ lone playoff game, Bennett tallied 4.5 tackles and a sack. No wonder he made his way onto the winter prospects’ list after having been on the outside for the fall edition.
At the combine, he was expected to justify that love. Rather than letting it creep in as something he absolutely had to live up to, Bennett said he let the positives of the experience as a whole dictate his feelings.
“There was no losing there,” Bennett said. “There was winning and learning.”
“Everybody was playing as if it was a pro-like mindset,” he continued.
“There was no real trying to embarrass somebody, it was really competitive. It was a great atmosphere to be in. Overall, I had fun. It was a real pleasure.”
If Bennett’s big leap from off the list to No. 13 brought the weight of expectation with it, his athleticism and versatility brought curiosity, as a number of CFL player personnel executives wondered about his ability to play not just on the defensive line, but in the linebacking corps as well.
When defensive linemen were dismissed on one day of the combine, Bennett was asked to stay back so he could be put through his paces as a linebacker. He was happy to do so.
“I’ve played every position in the box,” said Bennett of his university football career. “I think that got in someone’s ear, so they just wanted to see it. Ultimately, I did it pretty good. I went and did the linebacker drills and pretty much nailed them on the head. Did anything they asked me.
“I overheard some of the scouts saying they liked what they saw.”
It would be nice to perfectly keep the blinders on in this kind of situation but Bennett admits he could not stay completely away from feeling the gaze of judging eyes upon him. “You would kind of see it,”
he said of the teeming masses of coaches, scouts and front office types all around. “They would jot it down on their clipboard anytime you did something whether it was good, bad or great.
“You’ve just got to stay poised and do the right things and everything will work out,” he said. “Good things happen.”
He was sounding like a young man who felt he’d met the moment well, the pressure of expectation be damned. Maybe he was just relieved.
“The nerves are over,” Bennett said. “Just excited for the draft coming up. I showcased my talents as much as I could and everybody’s seen my positivity and just how I can make a team better.”