Air Force receiver Marcus Bennett has separated himself at his position


By BRENT BRIGGEMAN | The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.) | Published: November 17, 2017

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Tribune News Service) — Surveying his options at receiver in August, Air Force offensive coordinator Mike Thiessen could predict only that the “season will sort it out.”

He was right.

Marcus Bennett has started the past six games for the Falcons, and his production has helped finally separate him in a position battle with Geraud Sanders and Jake Matkovich.

Since the close of September, Bennett – a junior – has 11 catches for 253 yards and three touchdowns. The sophomore Sanders and junior Matkovich have combined for just three catches for 65 yards in that span.

Those two continue to play and bring height at the position that will continue to be a valuable commodity. But it is the 6-foot, 185-pound Bennett who emerged as the replacement to Jalen Robinette, who monopolized the playing time at that position over the past two years and left Air Force to choose between players with no career catches to take over for the program's all-time leader in receiving yards.

“It’s an honor for the coaches to trust in me to have the starting position,” Bennett said. “We all push each other – me, Geraud, Jake – we all trust each other to make the play no matter who’s out there.

“For me to be the starter is pretty humbling, but every day I’m just trying to get better.”

Bennett’s breakout game came at Navy when he made five catches for 161 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He also made three catches this past weekend against Wyoming, hauling in a 22-yard touchdown just before halftime that broke a scoring drought that nearly covered three halves.

“I do think he’s made really, really good improvement across the board,” coach Troy Calhoun said, noting Bennett’s strength as a perimeter blocker. “His route running, especially at the top and being able to gain some separation at the top of a route. It’s like anything, can you get open and can you make the catch? And do you get open at the right time?

“He’s really grown as a player.”

The Falcons (4-6, 3-3 Mountain West) have oscillated between a run-only and a run-oriented offense this year, which has made the importance of the receiving crew in the passing game vary. In the top four passing games, the Falcons have averaged 10 catches for 201 yards and two touchdowns. In the four games with the lowest passing output they have averaged just 50 yards through the air with a total of 26 attempts.

It’s worth remembering that the last time Air Force played on Boise State’s blue turf – which it will visit on Saturday night to face the Broncos (8-2, 6-0) – it threw for 279 yards.

You never know what you’re going to get with this offense. Except at receiver. You know you’re going to get Marcus Bennett.

“He’s just a hard worker,” said quarterback Arion Worthman when asked how Bennett separated himself. “He’s always running his routes hard, blocking hard. First guy out there. Just leading by example. Vocal guy. When he’s not out there he’s cheering other guys.”

©2017 The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.)
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