FOXBOROUGH — Right away, it was easy to tell that this wouldn’t be a typical Patriots interview.
As a small group of reporters surrounded him, the player reached out with his right hand and introduced himself to each person.
“I’m Marty,” he said. “Nice to meet you.”
Martellus Bennett didn’t need an introduction. The Patriots’ new No. 83 was tough to miss at Tuesday’s minicamp practice, looming large over his teammates with his 6-foot-6-inch, 273-pound frame while getting in one-on-one time with Tom Brady and catching touchdown passes over Patrick Chung.
Bennett’s reputation precedes him, as well. Tuesday’s post-practice interview was the first time he met face-to-face with New England media, but after eight NFL seasons with the Cowboys, Giants, and Bears, Bennett is well-known to be a bit of an individualist.
He says what’s on his mind, he’s big into art and literature, he’s self-publishing a children’s book, and he has a quirky sense of humor. In short, Bennett seems like the anti-Patriot, and on Tuesday he proved that he’s not going to change for Bill Belichick or anyone else.
“Dr. Seuss said, ‘No one can be you-er than you,’ and Oscar Wilde said, ‘Be yourself because everyone else is taken,’ ” said Bennett, becoming the first athlete in history to quote Dr. Seuss and Oscar Wilde in the same sentence.
“So I just try to continue to be who I am and don’t change that. And I’m a little chameleon, so I can fit in wherever I am. When you’re authentic, people appreciate that.”
Well, not always in Foxborough. But Bennett’s is one act that seems as though it will play well with his new coaches and teammates.
For one thing, the Patriots need him badly. Belichick will gladly put up with a silly quote or two if Bennett is everything the Patriots hope he is. Having a second big, athletic, and versatile tight end will open up so many more options for the offense, and the tandem of Bennett and Rob Gronkowski on the goal line has the potential to be devastating.
“Gronk is awesome,” Bennett said. “I like him. He’s funny. We’re funny together.”
And as we saw at Tuesday’s minicamp, Bennett can fill in more than capably if Gronk is absent. The offense doesn’t necessarily have to slow down if Gronk misses a game or two.
Bennett is no Gronk, but he can still stretch a defense and provide a mismatch in the Red Zone. Brady, not surprisingly, has taken a special interest in working with Bennett during these offseason practices.
“Just trying to get on the same page with Tom and everybody else — how he wants me to run routes, the way he throws the ball, timing everything out,” Bennett said. “I talk to him all the time in the locker room, in the meetings. I’m always asking him questions.
“I want to know what he wants, because the best place to be is where the quarterback wants you to be, so I’m constantly peppering him with questions.”
But Bennett also should fit in well because, despite the goofy facade, he has a lot of Patriot in his core (or he’s a quick learner).
“I don’t make many mental mistakes. Yeah, I’m smarter than I look,” he quipped. “I’m a voracious reader, I’m always studying. Make it important to you because it’s important to everybody else. The only way to play is to know what to do.”
Video: Report from first day of minicamp
Bennett, who has averaged 65 catches, 685 yards, and 5 touchdowns over the last four seasons, espouses several long-held Patriots maxims. Like Belichick constantly reminding us that a player or the team “has a long way to go,” Bennett downplays any success he has during offseason workouts.
“Being a star at OTAs doesn’t really mean anything,” he said. “It just means you’re constantly working and trying to be the best player you can.”
And that whole “do your job” thing and “getting better every day” mantra always advertised around Gillette Stadium? Bennett seems to understand those pretty well, too.
“I think football is a sport where you can never truly reach your potential,” he said. “It’s very aggravating, because there’s always something little that you can do better.”
Bennett said he has enjoyed working for Belichick in the three months since being acquired in a trade from Chicago.
“It’s fun,” Bennett said. “He’s straightforward, he tells you like it is, and that’s all you can expect from a guy.”
“Fun” is not always the word people use to describe the Patriot Way, but it might be impossible for Bennett NOT to have fun. He’s entering the final year of his contract and trying to learn a complicated offense, but he doesn’t seem to sweat the details too much.
“I feel like every year is the last year of my contract,” he said. “That’s just how I live. I’m not really concerned about it. I tend to have fun everywhere I go. I play football not because I have to, but because I want to. I enjoy playing football. Football is fun.”