Bennett excelled in man coverage last season, allowing just a 31.8 completion percentage when targeted that ranked second among Big 10 cornerbacks with at least five targets, trailing only Illinois’ Devon Witherspoon. The former Terrapin also yielded a reception once every 17 coverage snaps while playing man which was good enough fourth-best at the position, and his tape is littered with outstanding plays in coverage.
In this first clip, Maryland is running Cover 1 and Michigan State comes out in a three-by-one set. The safety is cheating to the three-receiver side and Bennett is on the single receiver in the boundary (top of the screen), so he’s on a bit of an island and playing off coverage so that he doesn’t get beat deep with no help over the top.
With that type of coverage, the short out is going to be an easy completion every time, but the corner does an excellent job of recognizing the route and closing quickly to give up no yards after the catch. This is where his elite 1.45-second 10-yard split time translates to the field as we can see his speed converging on the ball.
This rep is also a great example of what general manager Dave Zeigler was talking about in the quote below from his post-draft press conference:
“[Bennett is] very fast, as evident to his 40 speed. He ran a 4.30 I believe at the Combine, and you can see that speed on tape. His ability to close space.”
This next rep comes against the Green Bay Packers’ second-round pick, Jayden Reed. Bennett is in press coverage and the first thing that stands out is the patience he shows at the line of scrimmage.
Despite all of the dancing Reed does at the line, Bennett stays patient and keeps his hips square until Reed commits/releases to the outside. From there, the corner does an excellent job of using his hands to stay in phase and help force the receiver wide so he can use the sideline as his friend.
Bennett does lose the receiver a little bit at the top of the route, but he does an excellent job of getting his head around to locate the ball and continuing to squeeze the receiver toward the boundary to make this too difficult catch of a catch for Reed to make.
This is a great rep in press coverage from a guy who is just under 5’11” and 190 pounds. Again, we can see Bennett’s patience at the line of scrimmage and once the receiver commits, he opens his hips and gets physical with the receiver who he appears to be giving up quite a bit of size to.
It looks like the wideout is trying to run a seam route up the hash, but Bennett does a good job of widening him and taking that option away from the quarterback. This won’t show up on the stat sheet but is good to see for a couple of reasons. One, he’s showing off some position versatility to play in the slot, and two, he’s stronger than his frame would suggest and can line up in press coverage.
This next play is one Bennett probably wants back as everything but the finish is great...
Maryland is running man coverage and he reads the curl from the wide receiver perfectly to jump the route. That’s where his speed comes back into play as he has a great opportunity to get a pick off of his now teammate, Aidan O’Connell. However, we’ve got to make this grab my man!
Our subject is going to be lined up at the bottom of the screen in press coverage against Charlie Jones—fourth-round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals—on this next one. Jones starts to stem to the inside on his release and Bennett shows off some smooth footwork at the line of scrimmage to mirror and match, allowing him to maintain his leverage.
Once the receiver breaks on the slant, the corner uses his hands to help cover the route and, at the catch point, he plays the receiver's hands to rake the ball out and force an incompletion. This is textbook coverage against a quality opponent.
Unfortunately, we don’t get to see much on the clip above with the broadcast angle but what we do get to see is a nice play on the ball from Bennett. It looks like he’s defending against a simple go route here and does a great job of turning his head to locate the ball in the air while playing from a trail position. That’s pretty consistent throughout his reps and a big reason why he logged 15 pass breakups over the last two seasons combined.
Here’s some retribution for that dropped interception against O’Connell that we saw previously.
Purdue puts Jones in motion which forces Bennett to play off coverage, making it difficult for Bennett to cover the short drag route in man coverage. However, once he recognizes the route, he drives on it and makes sure to avoid getting picked by his teammate—No. 12, covering the tight end on the seam route.
Bennett has more than enough speed to be in a position to close on Jones had this been an accurate pass. But since it isn’t, he ends up showing off some impressive awareness to come down with an interception off of a tipped pass.
When you have good instincts and good athleticism as a defensive back, sometimes you just end up in the right place at the right time and that’s pretty much what happens here.
We’ll end with one more impressive rep in press coverage against Jones. Bennett suffocates and is all over this go route to the point where Jones basically has to turn into the defender to prevent the interception. With this play call, Purude is saying we think our guy can beat your guy one-on-one and they couldn’t have been more wrong.
As great as Bennett is in man coverage, he really struggles in zone coverage. He’ll miss opportunities to pass off and pick up receivers and struggles to locate threats coming into his area, often leaving pass-catchers wide open. That can come with more experience, but he’s also going to be a 23-year-old rookie and played five seasons of college football—two in JUCO—so it’s a bit more concerning that he still has those mental lapses.
At the end of the day though, if Raiders defensive coordinator Patrick Graham wants to continue running press-man coverage as much as he did last season, Bennett is a great fit for that scheme.