Benn boosts stock with blocked punt, TD catch

Benn boosts stock with blocked punt, TD catch

Mark Sanchez impressive again at QB

August 16, 2014, 11:00 am
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Arrelious Benn blocks a punt in the second quarter Friday vs. New England. (USA Today Images)

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Of all the bubble players on the Eagles’ 90-man roster, none may have boosted his chance of making the team more than Arrelious Benn.

With Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin sidelined Friday, Benn saw significant snaps and came up with two of the Eagles’ most dynamic plays against the Patriots in their 42-35 preseason loss at Gillette Stadium (see Instant Replay).

In the second quarter he blocked a punt that the Eagles' offense converted into its first touchdown. On the next drive, Benn caught a six-yard touchdown pass from Mark Sanchez that tied the game at 21-21.

But it wasn’t just a routine touchdown catch.

The ball was actually intended for -- and landed in -- the hands of receiver Ifeanyi Momah but sprung back into the air after Momah hit the ground in the end zone. Benn never took his eyes off the play and snagged the ball to complete the touchdown.

“Just staying with the ball and just my alertness until the play is over,” Benn said. “You never know.”

That’s a good motto for Benn’s chance of making the team.

He’s among a vast and diverse group of receivers trying to convince coach Chip Kelly that they belong on the 53-man roster. The 25-year-old former second-round pick of the Buccaneers is battling with Momah, Jeff Maehl, Brad Smith, Damaris Johnson and several other fringe receivers for either one or two spots after the top four.

Friday’s performance should certainly boost his stock, especially with a game-changing play on special teams, an area where backups need to excel in the preseason to have any shot of making the team.

“I don't care about none of that,” Benn said. “I can't control their decisions or anything. I just go out here to be a great teammate, have fun and play football. None of that stuff -- roster, where I'm at -- I don't care about none of that stuff.”

Benn, whose promising career has been derailed by one injury after another, missed all of last season after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament early in camp. He’s been fighting not only to make the roster, but also to prove that he can stay healthy. He’s played in just eight games since the end of the 2011 season and has never played 16 games in a season.

So far this camp, he hasn’t missed a single practice while Cooper, Maclin, Jeff Maehl and have sat out for significant stretches. Benn has mostly worked with the second string but took first-team reps in practice this past week with Cooper and Maclin out.

And though he has only one catch -- the quirky six-yarder that wasn’t even meant for him -- Benn couldn’t care less about the stat sheet.

“The Chicago (preseason) game was a game for me to just go out there and see the game speed,” he said. “It was different for me, the first game. Then coming back for the second game, I learned from it. Each game I’m just building my confidence out there and getting back to myself and going out there and playing football.”

Benn’s touchdown marked the first time he found the end zone since catching a four-yard touchdown from then-Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman in the second quarter against the Panthers on Dec. 24, 2011. He had no touchdowns -- preseason or regular season -- in 2012 and then got dealt to the Eagles the following offseason along with a seventh-round pick for a sixth-rounder.

Benn credits Kelly’s sports-science program and his offseason rehab for staying healthy so far and giving him a chance to compete.

“If I was anywhere else I think my body would have broken down,” he said, “because the way they take care of our bodies is awesome. It's definitely helping me.”

Benn couldn’t remember any other blocked punts in his career. On the snap, he bolted through scrimmage like he’d been shot from a cannon and got his outstretched arm on Ryan Allen’s punt. Benn then recovered the ball at the New England 31-yard line.

“We called a great play, you know,” he said. “We've been physical with them all week, you know what I mean? So it's kind of great that we know what to expect from them and we knew who we were going up against and just going out there and played physical and made plays.”

At 6-foot-2, 225 pounds, Benn seemingly has the size and body type Kelly prefers in wide receivers. But Benn isn’t even thinking that far ahead.

“I want to be good at anything they tell me to,” he said. “They want me to go punt the football, I'm going to go punt the football and do my best.

“I'm just proud of being able to go out there and do that. I would have been even happier if we got the win. Me and my individual goals doesn't matter. I'm just out there being a ballplayer and having fun.”

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