Michael Bennett can’t help but stand out. Even on a football field of similarly sized athletes, the defensive end is prominent. His upright stature makes it seem as if he’s taller than his listed 6-foot-4. In Seattle, he wore a jersey that often looked two sizes too small.
It was difficult to miss Bennett during his first public appearance at an Eagles practice, and not just because of his renown. When the No. 77 is worn, it’s typically by an offensive lineman or a defensive lineman with little chance of making the team.
— Michael Bennett (@mosesbread72) June 11, 2018
But Bennett opted for the number with Halapoulivaati Vaitai already in possession of the 72 he wore with the Seahawks. It suited the Pro Bowl player, who has drawn the attention of NFL quarterbacks over the last decade, along with a divided faction of supporters and detractors for both his on- and off-field exploits.
“You come here and you want to be an all-star just like you’ve been,” Bennett said Tuesday when asked if he planned to step in line with his new team or assume a more prominent role. “You want to be able to be one of the top players in the league, and you come in with that. I think the organization is expecting it.
“They’re not expecting me to come in and just sit back. They’re expecting me to come in and dominate on the field.”
The Eagles didn’t acquire Bennett for him to be one of the crowd, although they were likely disappointed when the 32-year-old was charged with injuring an elderly paraplegic worker at Super Bowl LI in Houston just days after the trade became official.
Bennett surrendered to authorities on March 26 and was released on $10,000 bail. Rusty Hardin, his lawyer, has maintained his client’s innocence and has pointed out what he has said are inconsistencies with the Harris County District Attorney’s case. Bennett, though, hadn’t publicly commented on the felony charge.
“I just let my lawyer handle it and just do what I need to do on the field,” Bennett said after the Eagles’ first of three minicamp practices this week. “For me being here, it’s just all about football and trying to be a great player, be a great teammate, and be a great citizen.”
But are the allegations true?
“I’m just a father and a husband that tries to do the right thing by me,” Bennett said. “The most important thing to me is to try and be a great human being.”
Is he confident that he will be exonerated?
“Like I said, “I’m just here to play football,” Bennett said.
His next court date is scheduled for June 27. The Eagles, for the time being, are standing by Bennett. While executive Howie Roseman said in March that he didn’t know of the pending arrest before the trade, he stated that Bennett was innocent until proven guilty, which suggested that the team would stand behind him until there was a conclusion.
Bennett’s appearance was eagerly anticipated, in part, because he opted to miss voluntary organized team activities over the previous three weeks. Eagles coach Doug Pederson had said Bennett’s absence had nothing to do with the criminal charges. He often skipped OTAs in Seattle, as well.
“It’s the only job in the world that’s voluntary that people expect you to show up,” Bennett said.
Pederson said he had no problem with Bennett’s nonattendance and often made sure to note that running back Darren Sproles wasn’t present either. Other veterans took various weeks or days off, as well.
But Pederson wasn’t expecting Bennett to light minicamp up, especially considering the limitations of practices held without contact and full pads.
“It will be tough, I think, with three days of work,” Pederson said. “Obviously, he’ll be in there with the first unit and just understanding the defense and getting that down. But he’s a veteran guy, not worried too much about where he’s at right now.”
Bennett worked with the second unit during team drills. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz would be the first to say that his scheme isn’t a complicated one, particularly for linemen, but there are subtle differences from the Seahawks’ system and new terminology.
“My biggest thing is how does he learn?” defensive line coach Chris Wilson said Monday. “Is he a walk-through guy? Is he a guy that you got to put on the board? Mike hasn’t excelled – I don’t want to say survive – in this league just by being a simple guy. He’s smart.”
Questions remain as to how he will accept Schwartz’s rotation (read: less playing time) and fit in with the locker-room culture. Bennett has said that he would be fine with fewer snaps and on Tuesday he spoke of the Eagles’ family atmosphere. He did spend a week with the team in early May during an early period of offseason workouts.
“I remember when I got done with a drill, he took me aside and said, ‘Hey, man, you want to get paid? Then do this, this and that,’ ” defensive end Steven Means said. “And that was just me. I’ve seen him pull other guys to the side.”
Bennett speaks in soft, measured tones during news conferences, but he can be outspoken on issues dear to him. He knelt during the national anthem as a sign of protest over racial injustice and until, he said, a team would sign quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Bennett named his book, “Things That Make White People Uncomfortable.”
He avoided answering questions about President Trump disinviting the Eagles to the White House or about the league’s new anthem policy on Tuesday, though. Bennett did seem pleased about playing for a franchise with like-minded teammates — such as safety Malcolm Jenkins — and a coach who allows his players to stay true to themselves.
“It’s kind of hard to be somebody else,” Bennett said. “I think it’s our job as human beings to be ourselves. I think anytime you can act according to your character and be who you are, that makes your job that much easier.”