Michael Bennett has a lot on the line before the 2016 season starts.
This time last year, Bennett was talked about as a potential breakout defender for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Sure, he was a sixth-round pick, but most people thought he should have been taken, at worst, within the first 75 picks. He didn't fit a lot of defenses in the NFL, but he fit the Jaguars' scheme. He was a steal.
Add onto the fact that Sen'Derrick Marks had torn his ACL in the Jaguars final game in the 2014 season, and the chance for a player like Bennett to shine was clear.
Fast forward 12 months, and the talk around Michael Bennett is a lot different. He suffered through a few mishaps his rookie year, such as an untimely injury that occurred at the same exact time he was primed to receive more playing time, that made his first season in the NFL look a lot more like what you would expect from a sixth-round pick and less like a breakout rookie. His production matched that as well, as he only recorded 0.5 sacks despite being a highly touted pass rusher coming out of Ohio State.
And now Bennett is also being talked about as a possible cut come the end of training camp. With four players now slotted to play the 3-tech position -- Sen'Derrick Marks, Malik Jackson, and Sheldon Day are the others -- it makes sense that Bennett is on notice since Marks and Jackson are safe.
Is Bennett worth keeping around, even after a season that failed to leave much of an impression?
Despite his playing time being inconsistent, Bennett was not a player who really struggled as much as his production suggests.
Against the run, which was deemed Bennett's weakness entering the NFL, is where Bennett was given the most opportunities. And it was where he ultimately shined the most.
Bennett showed some things against the run that he didn't show in college. He displayed an anchor, instincts, and a good ability to use his hands to shed blocks.
Bennett did not see nearly as many opportunities as a pass rusher as he did a run defender, which was odd but not surprising when you consider the team had Jared Odrick and Ryan Davis at their disposal.
Rushing the passer is all about repetition and getting a feel for your opponent, though. Bennett's snaps as a rusher were so random that he was never really able to build any momentum.
But production is production at the end of the day. And for a team that struggled as much on third down as the Jaguars did last year, Bennett is going to have to prove that he can win on that down. They have enough run defenders. They need Bennett to get after the quarterback.
Unfortunately for Bennett, he has to compete with Sheldon Day for that right. Day is only a rookie so there will be an adjustment period, but he was a gifted pass rusher at Notre Dame and will give Bennett a hard fought battle.
Bennett's rookie season was not as uninspiring as his numbers suggest. He did a lot of good and has the talent to play in the NFL. It just might not be for the Jaguars that he is playing for come September.