Keeanu Benton makes big impression at Senior Bowl
By GERY WOELFEL
MOBILE, ALA. – Jake Andrews isn’t an NFL agent and doesn’t represent any players.
Rather, Andrews plays football. Recently, he played for Troy University. He played so well he received an invitation to participate in this week’s Reese’s Senior Bowl.
Being an offensive lineman, Andrews has a unique perspective of his Senior Bowl peers, especially the ones who get down and dirty in the trenches.
Andrews, a mountain of a man at 6-foot-3, 319 pounds, has been impressed by several linemen on both sides of the ball at the Senior Bowl, most of whom will be playing for pay next season in the NFL.
But one defensive lineman who has made a distinct impression on him is Keeanu Benton, an equally massive defensive lineman from the University of Wisconsin.
Andrews and Benton have exchanged unpleasantries while intensely competing against each other in Senior Bowl practices, but the former has nothing but pleasant feelings about the latter’s game.
“He’s very strong, very good with his hands, really quick off the ball and is a twitchy kind of guy,’’ Andrews said of Benton. “He’s got a lot of mass. For all that mass and to be able to move so quickly is impressive.
“He’s really an impressive dude.’’
Andrews’ sentiments accurately reflect how well Benton has performed at the Senior Bowl, an important annual pre-draft audition for all 32 NFL teams.
To say the least, Benton has caught the attention of NFL officials. If he hasn’t been the most dominant lineman here, he’s close. He has been a force against the run, which was his calling card at Wisconsin, and has showed NFL scouts an improved pass rush.
Jaelyn Duncan, an offensive tackle from Maryland who is projected to be a second-round draft pick, said he didn’t notice any glaring holes in Benton’s game.
“He’s looked really good,’’ Duncan said of Benton. “He was very dominant in the run game. And he did a couple of nice things in the pass game.
“I think he’s pretty good at everything. He’s just a good all-around player.’’
Benton’s stellar showing at the Senior Bowl isn’t overly surprising to most NFL scouts. They had a healthy dose of respect for Benton even before the Senior Bowl commenced.
Some of those scouts project Benton as a third-round draft prospect. And if he continues to shine in Saturday’s Senior Bowl game, which will be televised on the NFL Network, and follows with an equally strong outing at the NFL Combine next month in Indianapolis, his stock will undoubtedly rise.
While Benton, a polite and soft-spoken sort, is pleased by his Senior Bowl showing, he isn’t content. He believes he hasn’t yet fully tapped his potential.
“I feel like I’ve done pretty well,’’ Benton said, “but I still have a lot to improve on after this.
“There are a lot of guys out there that know I have a decent run game. But this week, I was trying to show my pass rush skills and I think I did a pretty good job of doing that.’’
Benton, who was measured at 6-3½ and weighs 312 pounds, is coming off a quality season at Wisconsin. He recorded 36 tackles, including 10 for a loss, and 4½ sacks. He was a third-team All-Big Ten selection by the league’s coaches.
Benton had the option of returning for another season with the Badgers. And he said he would have enjoyed playing for new Badger coach Luke Fickell, but felt it was time to follow his dream to the NFL.
“I had considered (leaving Wisconsin) last year,’’ Benton said. “But I didn’t leave knowing that I had some more things I needed to improve on and I think I did improve.
“And I wanted to become more of a leader and try to help; everybody out and I think I did a good job of that.
“He (Fickell) is a pretty cool guy. He didn’t try (to persuade him to come back). I just felt it was my time to come out. I felt I was ready to take that next step in my life.’’
Benton, who was a New Orleans Saints fan growing up in Janesville, WI., said being on the cusp of playing in the NFL has been hard to fathom.
He candidly concedes the possibility of being a pro football player, seemed unrealistic for most of his life.
“I never really thought this could happen, not really,’’ Benton said. “So all of this is now so surreal.’’