By Tony Grossi
The Morning Kickoff …
One lucky man: Travis Benjamin might be the fastest of the Browns. Trent Richardson very well could be the strongest. We wouldn’t know for sure without some competition. But there is no debating that Marcus Benard is the luckiest man on the Browns. He could retire the trophy.
Benard is lucky to be alive, lucky to have received his full pay last year, lucky to still have a job on a football team after crashing his three-wheeled, high-performance motorcycle on I-71 in October.
The police report didn’t estimate how fast Benard was speeding on that Monday afternoon after a light Browns practice. One witness told a television station that Benard’s bike “flew” past him. Another said Benard appeared to be racing another vehicle.
Benard’s bike crashed into a concrete median wall and threw him 241 feet down the highway.
The only injury Benard suffered to which he will admit was a broken right hand. He didn’t play the rest of the season. Benard breached his contract and could have forfeited about $371,000 of his base salary of $525,000. But the Browns stuck by him, paid him, and brought him back.
Every team needs pass rushers. Two years ago, Benard led the Browns with 7.5 sacks. He’s only 26. And Benard basically is a good guy with three young sons. He made a mistake and was extremely lucky to live to talk about it.
“Blessed,” he said. “Above anything, I am blessed. I’m happy to be here. It was an event. It’s not something I can shrug off or anyone should shrug off. It’s a blessing. I feel like it’s a plan. I’m very happy to be here.”
Benard said the Browns supported him “from Day One.”
“Words can’t describe how wonderful they’ve been to me. I’ll forever appreciate the Browns for what they’ve done for me,” he said.
Life-changing event: Benard has been somewhat of a drama queen since breaking out as an undrafted free agent with a key sack of Ben Roethlisberger in the Browns’ last upset of Pittsburgh in the 2010 season. The following season, he had a fainting spell during the open locker room period.
Last summer, Benard reported to training camp beefed up to about 280 pounds when he (wrongly) thought a position switch from 3-4 outside linebacker to 4-3 defensive end meant the Browns wanted him heavier (they didn’t).
Then came the accident, which was the result of him consciously deciding to race his motorcycle way too fast.
Now, “I appreciate life and I appreciate the sport that I’m playing and my responsibilities to it,” he said.
“You live and you learn from everything. You walk upstairs and you stub your toe, you learn to pick your feet up. I learned a valuable lesson, just the appreciation of life.”
Moving forward: Benard’s bizarre weight gain last summer was a product confusion during the owner’s lockout. He couldn’t communicate with coaches and just figured they wanted him heavier.
Now he’s back down to 260 pounds – “a beautiful weight for the pass rush and to compete on the field and help the team,” he said.
Not knowing what to expect from Benard this year, the Browns signed two defensive ends in free agency – Frostee Rucker and Juqua Parker. Rucker will start at right end on early downs and move inside on pass-rush downs. Parker, a Philadelphia Eagle free agent success of GM Tom Heckert, will be the designated pass rusher at right end on passing downs.
Also, Benard’s motorcycle-driven injury gave undrafted free agent Auston English a chance to impress coaches a year ago.
Where that leaves Benard is anybody’s guess.
"I am glad he's here and I think we all go through things in life that refocus us on doing things the right way and allowing us to be able to continue to do ththings that are important to us," said coach Pat Shurmur. "He's done that. He looks like he is in good shape and I am glad he is here to help compete and make this team."
“I’m just gonna compete,” Benard said. “I’m a pass rusher. Whatever the team needs, whether it’s running down on kickoffs, or coming off the edge (as a pass rusher), I’m here and willing to work.”
That’s the least he owes the Browns.
|Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com. |
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 44 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
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