IRVING, Texas - The fact that one of the starting tight ends in Thursday's game is tied for the league lead in catches alongside New England's Rob Gronkowski is not a surprise.
There might be some out there unaware that it's Martellus Bennett, and not Jason Witten, who is tied with "Gronk" with 65 receptions, which is also tied for 15th in the league among all players.
Without a doubt, Year 2 in Chicago has been even better than last season for Bennett, who spent the first four years of his career backing up Witten from 2008-11 before signing with the Giants for a season and now two years in Chicago.
Bennett is one of Jay Cutler's top targets along with receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey, creating quite a trio of oversized receivers.
Obviously eager to face his former teammates in Dallas, Bennett will certainly have some company on the Bears sidelines.
Bennett is one of 10 former Cowboys players and coaches currently with Chicago.
From a player standpoint, Chicago has former defensive tackle Jeremiah (Jay) Ratliff, tight end Dante Rosario, safety Danny McCray and cornerback Terrance Mitchell, along with Bennett.
Ratliff, of course, was a four-time Pro Bowler in Dallas before the Cowboys waived him in the middle of last season and eventually filed a grievance against Ratliff this past March, in an attempt to regain portions of Ratliff's signing bonus. Ratliff missed the first half of 2013 with a sports hernia injury but quickly signed and then played with the Bears after the Cowboys released him.
Mitchell was one of five seventh-round picks of the Cowboys in 2014 and flashed some potential in camp and preseason but the club eventually parted ways just before the regular season. McCray led the Cowboys in special teams tackles in 2010-11.
There are also five former Cowboys assistants on the Bears' current staff, including former special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis, who is now the Bears' assistant head coach and ST coordinator. Running backs coach Skip Peete, defensive line coach Paul Pasqualoni, linebackers coach Reggie Herring and assistant special teams coach Dwayne Stukes all spent time in Dallas.
Bennett calls the Dallas reunion more of a coincidence.
"I had no idea where I was going to end up," Bennett said, referring to his one season with the Giants. "And then free agency came, and I just felt like this would be the best situation for me, so I ended up coming here myself. Everybody's journey is different, you never know where you're going to end up – in the NFL, you're always getting scouted. I have no idea why a lot of guys ended up out here, but the guys that did are some good players. They were able to get some good players."
Last year, Bennett had a career season with 65 catches for 759 yards and five touchdowns. This year, with four games left to play, Bennett already has 65 grabs with 737 yards and five scores. Not only is he having yet another stellar season, but he's got a legitimate shot at the Pro Bowl.
"When I was in Dallas, Jerry Jones always told me I was going to be a Pro Bowl player. He was one of the few people down there who had a lot of faith in me," Bennett said. "Even when I left, he didn't want me to leave. When I went to New York, the deal that I would have had to stay in Dallas would have been better than the deal I took in New York, but I just felt like, where I was in life, I needed to move on. But I have a lot of love for Jerry Jones, and a lot of things that he told me when I was there – that he believed in me and thought I was going to be one of the best players."
Even Bennett understands that playing behind Witten made it harder for him to showcase his talents. Still, while he admits he learned a lot from Witten in his approach, he also grew as a player thanks to Terrell Owens and Patrick Crayton, a pair of veteran receivers at the time who took Bennett under their wings.
"I spent a couple years as an apprentice, basically, in Dallas, learning from T.O. and Patrick Crayton and just watching guys," Bennett said. "I said, when I get my chance, I'm going to be one of the best in the league at playing tight end – just take those things and add what makes me special about my game to the things I learned from them. I think just being the No. 1 guy is big – my first year doing it was in New York, and I thought I played alright. Every single year -- I've been progressing every single year. I'm just getting better and better every single year."
While he'll always be compared to Witten, Bennett said he learned more from Witten by copying his approach.
"We (didn't) talk much when I was down there, but I learned a whole lot from watching him," Bennett said of Witten. "I still watch him to this day – watching game tapes and things he's doing to get open. I think Witten is an excellent tight end, and when I first got to Dallas, T.O. told me 'Hey, whatever you do, make sure you watch 82, because he can play some football.' That's what I did, and there are some similarities that I take into my approach to the game now that I've taken from watching Witten over the years."
Still, Bennett couldn't do everything like Witten, and didn't want to.
"They used to always tell me 'Do it like Witten, be like Witten.'" Bennett recalled. "I think they had a guy that played tight end the right way, and they just wanted me to do it exactly like him. But really, if you try to imitate somebody else, you can never be who you are. Being a young player coming out of college, turning 21 after the draft or whatever, and trying to change everything up to be like somebody else – that's just not the way to go with anything in life. Dr. Seuss said 'No one can be you-er than you.'"