With the team concept always in mind, Edgar Bennett became one of the most productive running backs for the Green Bay Packers, gaining 3,353 rushing yards during his five seasons (1992-1996) with the storied franchise. Bennett was the team's leading rusher in the 1996 season when it won Super Bowl XXXI, and currently holds the all-time Packer record for most receptions in a season by a running back with 78, set in 1994.
When he hung up his cleats in 2000, Bennett combined his unselfish attitude with great football knowledge and has since made an even deeper impact within the Packers organization. The transition from retired player to a teacher of the game began with his appointment as the Packers' Director of Player Development, where he served from 2001-2004. In this advisory role, Bennett prepared players for all phases of the profession both on the field and off it and provided additional instruction specifically to Green Bay's running backs.
"It's extremely satisfying to see a player that you helped continue to develop and understand what it means to become a professional," said Bennett. "We feel like it's different here in Green Bay because we want them to understand what it truly means to be a Packer in the community, locker room, as a teammate and with all the history that's involved in Green Bay."
While managing player development, Bennett's focus was on getting players to take advantage of the many programs already in place that are intended to meet their needs off the field. The various obligations and responsibilities that players are faced with when they enter the NFL can be overwhelming.
Bennett often mentored players regarding where to seek advice on financial budgeting and for those without college degrees, stressed the importance of getting involved in the continuing education program. Even the older veterans needed direction at times as well. Bennett assisted in getting them involved in internships and focusing on a career when their playing days are over. He was such a great fit for the player development position that in 2003, the NFL recognized his department as the best in the NFC.
"I learned a lot and it was a unique experience getting to work with a lot of young kids coming into the league as well as the older guys and getting them set up for life after football," he said. "But the bottom line with player development is trying to make players see the big picture in which you try and prepare them for situations where they're not caught off-guard."
The Packers not only benefited having Bennett in the front office but they also saw value in allowing him to assist the running backs in improving their skills. Additionally, the situation allowed for Bennett to frequently shadow running backs coach Sylvester Croom who is now the head coach at Mississippi State University.
Eventually, Bennett's talents and background earned him the advancement to running backs coach for the Packers in 2005. "I didn't necessarily plan on getting into coaching," said Bennett. "When I was playing I took it seriously when I was around coaches because I wanted to be a professional and student of the game. I wanted to know more than what was just needed to do your job. Deep down inside, coaching was probably in me but I also wanted to be the best player development director that I could be."
But numerous injuries last year to the Packers running back unit put Bennett's coaching debut in a complex situation. Prior to the midpoint of the season, Bennett saw Pro Bowl tailback Ahman Green and his top backup Najeh Davenport go down with season-ending injuries. Backup Tony Fisher didn't fare much better and missed two games to injury after being inserted into the lineup. Next on the list to fill the vacated slot was a nondrafted practice squad player in Samkon Gado.
"It was definitely an adverse situation," Bennett stated. "Anytime you lose a starter in Ahman Green or a backup like Najeh Davenport, it makes things difficult. But I looked at it that all year long we're always training that next guy to be the guy. It was just another opportunity to help teach another player to develop where he can help the club win more football games."
In less than four weeks of work under Bennett's guidance, Gado started in five contests. He topped the 100-yard rushing mark in three games, including a Packers' rookie record of 171 yards in week 14, before he too suffered an injury at the end of the season. Bennett also worked diligently with Noah Herron, a rookie mid-season acquisition who played in five games and rushed 45 times for 141 yards and two touchdowns. In all, the Packers started five running backs throughout the season and at times had to split carries among the healthy backs.
"Coaching is different for each individual," said Bennett. "The bottom line is being able to reach your guys and getting them to function at a high level at practice and in games. I'd like to think that I'm viewed as a young coach that brings a lot of passion, enthusiasm, attention to detail and who is a stickler for fundamentals."
One thing for sure is that it didn't take long for Green Bay's running backs to adapt the identity of their position coach. Many of them have installed several of Bennett's characteristics and overall attitude into their own games. In his day, Bennett was a tough gamer and the quintessential team guy for the green and gold. He was a between the tackles, physical runner and did whatever was needed, even if it meant sharing carries in the backfield.
"Those guys all have great attitudes and tremendous work ethic," said Bennett. "When we were in that situation with the injuries, those guys came in early and stayed late to get what was needed to perform well for their team."
Bennett will once again have his hands full going into next season as Green and Davenport continue to recover from last season's injuries. But after handling last season's fiasco of injuries so well, expect Bennett to have all his backs prepared for a shot at the starter's role.
"It's always exciting," he said about his role as the Packers' running backs coach. "After being in player development and combining that with having been a player, it's really all about teaching and preparation. It's unique for me having played here with an understanding of what it means to be a Green Bay Packer. It's a special situation."