Philadelphia Eagles defensive lineman Michael Bennett stood out immediately to Jim Schwartz, his new defensive coordinator.
The 6-foot-4, 274-pound former Seahawk appears more physically imposing in person than the coach had previously observed when Bennett would “wreck the offenses” of his teams.
“Because he wears those little tiny shoulder pads you don't realize how big he is,” Schwartz explained Friday following the Eagles' second practice. “Watch him stand next to (Fletcher Cox). That's when it comes to me. It's like, wow, this is a big man.”
Bennett has already helped many of his younger linemates acclimate to the coordinator’s scheme. It's a unique playbook, to say the least, especially for defensive ends who aren’t accustomed to taking their stance outside the offensive tackle in Schwartz’s trademark wide-nine formation.
“Watch him during an individual period and watch him provide instructions to the back-of-the-roster guys, to the undrafted free agents,” Schwartz said. “He's not a selfish player. He's a team-first guy.”
There’s no denying that Bennett, a three-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion, can collapse pockets. But, whether the defensive lineman can transition into a potentially limited role with the Eagles remains to be seen.
Bennett joined a deep and accomplished defensive line unit this offseason when the rebuilding Seahawks shipped him to the Super Bowl champs in exchange for a fourth-round pick - a small price to pay for one of the league’s most consistent pass-rushers.
Bennett collected 8.5 sacks, 14 tackles for a loss, and 24 quarterback hits last year, according to NFL statistics compilations, making him one of football's most disruptive overall linemen. He also played 934 total defensive snaps - eighth-most in the NFL - according to Football Outsiders, which amounted to about 85 percent of Seattle’s total defense.
Schwartz, entering his 11th season as a defensive coordinator, has long believed the whole is greater than the sum of its parts when it comes to his defensive line, which is why none of his best pass-rushers played more than 65 percent of snaps last year. Defensive end Brandon Graham played 663 snaps, which was most among Philadelphia's linemen but nearly 300 fewer than Bennett. Three other Eagles linemen played in the neighborhood of 45 to 55 percent of the snaps.
It’s safe to assume Bennett, who turns 33 in November, won’t see the field for anywhere near 943 snaps next season. He will also have to beat out Graham and last year’s first-round pick, Derek Barnett, for a starting position when the season opens Sept. 6 against the Atlanta Falcons.
But, does Bennett care about his role when Week 1 arrives?
“Oh yeah, obviously I care,” he told theScore on Friday. “I mean, at the same time, I’m not going to make that the most important thing for me. We’ve got so many great players really."
Bennett started all 59 games he played for the Seahawks from 2014-17, and all three of his Pro Bowl nods have come in the past three seasons.
Graham, whose fourth-quarter strip-sack of Tom Brady sealed the Eagles’ first Super Bowl title in team history, is entering the final year of his deal, while Barnett placed third on the team last season in sacks and quarterback hits despite playing the fewest number of snaps among the defensive end rotation.
"I’m not coming in to like just be a guy," Bennett said. "I’m coming here to be one of the guys."
Schwartz hasn’t tailored his scheme to just one player. Everyone plays, everyone rotates. That’s the coach’s formula for fresh and productive legs in the fourth quarter. The Eagles may have surrendered more than 500 passing yards to Brady in the Super Bowl, but were able to turn the ball over in the final two minutes when Barnett recovered a fumble caused by Graham's aforementioned strip-sack.
“I think that one of our themes last year was the fact that we were able to withstand quite a bit of injuries to key players, and depth is a big part of that,” Schwartz said. “So, you're never going to find a coach that's going to complain about trying to find ways to get more talent on the field. I think that's the way we feel about it.”
One of the catalysts to the Eagles’ championship was the countless number of veterans who checked their egos at the entrance of the NovaCare Complex in South Philadelphia for the greater good.
Running back LeGarrette Blount, already a Super Bowl champion upon his arrival, didn’t gripe in Week 2 when he didn’t take a single carry against the Kansas City Chiefs, nor did he complain when his workload took a hit at the trade deadline when the Eagles acquired Jay Ajayi.
Several cornerbacks rotated at the spot left vacant for 10 weeks after Ronald Darby dislocated his ankle; Vinny Curry, a prideful pass-rusher, didn’t sound off about his role as a run-stopping defender, and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery didn't demand more targets despite averaging the fewest per game since his rookie year.
The Eagles won 13 games and their first championship without a 1,000-yard rusher, 1,000-yard receiver, and without any defender eclipsing 10 sacks.
Now they’re banking on Bennett to also buy in, much the same way those who came before him did.
“I don’t know,” Bennett said when asked about accepting a different role. “That’s not how I’m going into it.
“I was told I would be competing for a starting job and if it doesn’t happen then it doesn’t happen. But at the same time, I am going into it with the mindset the way I always go into it - to be a top defensive end, one of the top defensive ends in the league. It’s just my DNA.”