For a Browns team that struggled when it came to recording sacks in 2008, Marcus Benard is an extremely intriguing player.
The rookie free-agent linebacker had 16 sacks – by himself – last year at tiny Jackson State, just one less than the Browns recorded as a team, setting a new franchise low in the process. He had five sacks in one game against Alabama State. In addition, he had 22.5 tackles for a loss.
As a junior, Benard had nine sacks.
Before that, he spent two years at Grand Rapids (Mich.) Community College, racking up nine sacks in just five games in 2006, and 12 sacks in 2005.
Add it all up and during his four-year college career at those two stops, Benard had 46 sacks, or an average of 11.5 per season. Not bad. Not bad at all.
OK, so he toiled off the beaten path throughout college, meaning he wasn’t playing at a high level of competition against big-time players. But 16 sacks in a college football season is 16 sacks, and 46 sacks in a college football career is 46 sacks, no matter where it’s at.
And that’s why the Browns, who are trying anything and everything to increase their pass rush – who are checking in every nook and cranny to find pass rushers – are giving Benard a long look-see.
He’s making the most of it. He has done something to stand out on almost every day of training camp these past 2½ weeks, and he was one of the few Browns who had a positive performance in last Saturday night’s 17-0 loss to the Green Bay Packers in the preseason opener. He tied for the team lead with six total tackles, and with five solo tackles, had one of the club’s two sacks and added a tackle for a loss and a quarterback hit.
Knowing he has to also distinguish himself on special teams to have a shot at making the team, Benard did that as well by getting one of the club’s four special teams tackles.
But it’s those sacks that really grab your attention when you look at Benard.
“If I don’t sack the quarterback, then I consider that I had a bad game,” the 6-foot-2, 256-pounder said following Tuesday morning’s practice.
In other words, Benard didn’t have a lot of bad games in college.
But getting notoriety for those accomplishments? Well, that’s another story.
Coming out of Ypsilanti (Mich.) High School, he did not have any solid offers from large colleges.
“That was because of grades,” he said.
So he went the junior college route, and then the small college route. His performances at those two places didn’t get him drafted, but they did earn a spot in camp with the Browns as a rookie free agent.
“I knew I’d get a shot, and when I did, I was prepared to run with it,” he said.
It won’t be easy for him to carve out a role on the Browns, though. There are a slew of veteran linebackers on the roster, and the Browns used high picks to take two more in this year’s NFL Draft in David Veikune (second round) and Kaluka Maiava (fourth).
All of them are ahead of Benard on the depth chart.
“That hasn’t bothered me,” he said. “I’ve been at the bottom since high school. I’ve never had anything given to me, and actually, I like it better that way. I don’t know how I’d react if it were any other way.”
When it comes to pass rushers, Benard said he has “studied all of the great ones.” That includes Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison from Akron Coventry High School and Kent State.
“He kept fighting and fighting throughout his career,” Benard said. “He wouldn’t take no for an answer. He’s a heckuva story. He ought to write a book.”
Benard says he tries to model himself after Julius Peppers.
“I don’t have his size. It’s just that my style of play is the same as his,” Benard said.
He’s also studied the greats from Jackson State, such as Pro Football Hall of Famer Walter Payton, Jim Ray Smith (not the former Browns guard) and Robert Brazile, the former Houston Oilers linebacker who used to have some titanic struggles against left tackle Doug Dieken and the original Browns.
Now he’s trying to take all the information he’s gathered and all the things he’s learned from those players and apply it to his own career.
He has to be considered a longshot. And he knows that.
But the Browns, who are a long way from where they want to be with their pass rush, have to give longshots like Marcus Benard as much of a chance as they earn. So far, Marcus has earned his chance.