Player scraps are a staple of NFL training camps. No sooner do players mix it up than it ends and they’re yukking it up on the sidelines.
Not in Chicago Bears camp, though.
Tight end Martellus Bennett was suspended and fined by the team a day after he slammed cornerback Kyle Fuller, the team’s first-round draft pick, to the ground. Fuller, the 14th pick overall in the NFL draft, had tried to strip the ball from Bennett and grabbed him around the the face mask or collar. Bennett jumped up and went at Fuller. The players were separated quickly, but Bennett wasn’t having any part of the peacemaking Brandon Marshall attempted to do.
“I play hard and go hard every single day. I’m probably one of the most violent people on the field. That’s just my style of play,” he said (via ESPN). I’m going to continue to play the same way I always play. That’s what I’m here for…. It’s practice. Practice is practice. I know I sound like Allen Iverson right now, but it’s practice. [Expletive] happens at practice. You learn from it. That’s why it’s practice.”
The Bears cited “conduct detrimental to the team” in their punishment, with Fuller’s first-round status no doubt factoring into the decision. According to the collective bargaining agreement, that equals a maximum fine of one week’s salary and/or suspension without pay for not more than four weeks.
Even despite the video evidence, the punishment came as a surprise, with General Manager Phil Emery sending a clear message when he slapped Bennett with a suspension that is indefinite. The Chicago Tribune’s David Haugh writes that the move “had to be done:”
Perhaps similar outbursts go on every day in camps across the NFL, but Bennett’s clearly revealed a behavioral issue that runs deeper and threatens chemistry on a team coached by a man who values it. If that were not the case, Bennett would have been at practice Tuesday after a stern lecture instead of on leave until he rediscovers the meaning of professional. If this were an isolated incident of erratic behavior, to a man the Bears likely would have been defending a teammate who lost his cool instead of hoping a problem player gets fixed.
Bears players weren’t giving up on Bennett, though. Several, according to Jay Cutler, had reached out to Bennett.
“We care about him and we all love the guy,” Cutler said (via Chicago Bears.com). “He works extremely hard out here. Going forward, we just hope that we get him back sooner than later.”