Winning Trumps Playing Time for Michael Bennett
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - Michael Bennett is used to playing a lot, participating in over 80 percent of the defensive snaps for Seattle when he was on the field over the past five seasons as the best defensive lineman on the best defense of the generation, something which produced three Pro Bowl berths, two Super Bowl appearances and a Lombardi Trophy for the Houston native.
Through the quarter pole of his first season in Philadelphia, however, Bennett is playing in just 54 percent of the defensive snaps in Jim Schwartz's rotational system, fueling some into assuming Bennett is unhappy.
It all started in the season opener when NBC's Cris Collinsworth claimed the “word” was that Bennett was “none too happy with being a backup” to second-year player Derek Barnett with the Eagles. Another bit of lighter fluid was squeezed out in Tampa when Bennett seemed to yell at defensive line coach Chris Wilson when he was pulled off the field just moments after generating a hurry on Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Finally, there was the mini-media blackout in which Bennett told a group of reporters that he was tired of talking and instructing them to let the young guys have their time.
In reality, Bennett never stopped talking and discussed Andrew Luck and Marcus Mariota with 973espn.com over the past two weeks and even explained how practicing against Russell Wilson all those years in the Pacific Northwest helped him in dealing with mobile quarterbacks.
Bennett did shut down the group-media sessions for a few weeks before opening back up and addressing the elephant in the room: his playing time.
"I’m just happy to be in the situation where we can just win," Bennett told reporters on Thursday. "I just want to win."
In the Eagles talented four-man, defensive end rotation, Bennett is third when it comes to playing time behind Derek Barnett (167 snaps), Brandon Graham (160) and ahead of Chris Long (129) with 140 reps so far. From Schwartz's perspective, it's as simple as having a deep bench and keeping his three thirtysomething veterans fresh for the second half of the season.
For Bennett, though, it's different and something he has to get used to.
“You always want to play more,” the 32-year-old admitted. "I think it’s always a test of character when you have to reinvent yourself and do something you’re not comfortable with or find some comfort in it when you’re uncomfortable."
Ironically, Bennett will likely get an increased workload just as he seems to be accepting a decreased role because Barnett was ruled out of Sunday's game with Minnesota with a shoulder injury. It's conceivable that Schwartz simply inserts rookie Josh Sweat into the rotation but the more likely scenario is splitting up Barnett's typical reps (about 42 per game) between Graham, Long and Bennett.
"Things will fall into place as they will," Bennett said. "... I mean, we’re 2-2 so the most important thing is not my individual stats or individual playing time. It’s really about the wins."
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen