No offense to Taylor Hart, but Michael Bennett has made the backup right tackle look as if he's a former defensive lineman making the conversion to offense. Which is essentially what Hart has been attempting to accomplish for the last two years.
Hart's efforts have been admirable, and, who knows, may be enough to land him a spot on the Eagles' 53-man roster. But he has offered little resistance to Bennett in the early stages of the defensive end's first training camp in Philadelphia.
Bennett has been practicing with the second-unit defense, something the 10-year veteran rarely did with the Seahawks. Does his place on the depth chart matter as much as it would for, say, an offensive lineman? No. The Eagles rotate their defensive linemen as much as any team.
But Bennett's role will clearly be different from what it was in Seattle — where he played more than 83 percent of the snaps over his last four seasons — even if he were to eventually start.
"Obviously, I care," Bennett said about starting, "but at the same time I'm not going to make that the most important thing for me. I think the most important thing for me is just getting in the game and playing as hard as I can. We got so many great players, so it really doesn't matter at this point."
Right now, Derek Barnett and Chris Long – neither of whom started last season — are the first-team defensive ends. Brandon Graham, who started on the left side last season, remains sidelined following ankle surgery, and Vinny Curry, who started on the right, was released in March.
Bennett was acquired in a trade right around the time of Curry's release. Considering his resume – three straight Pro Bowl selections the last three seasons – it would have been no surprise if he was handed a starting spot immediately. But given Graham and Long's contributions last season, and Barnett's clout as a former first-round draft pick, it's understandable that Bennett may have to be deferential.
"I was productive, too," Bennett said Thursday. "I was a Pro Bowler the last three-four years in a row. I was top in the league in quarterback hits. Top in TFLs. So I'm not coming to like just be a guy. I'm coming to be the guy, one of the guys. … I'm a competitor at heart."
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Bennett's math was a little off — his 24 quarterback hits were tied for 11th in the NFL last season, and his 14 tackles for loss were tied for 16th. But, overall, he was one of the more productive 4-3 ends in the league, having also recorded 8-1/2 sacks.
So why did the Seahawks trade Bennett and a seventh-round pick, receiving only a fifth-round pick and receiver Marcus Johnson in return? Yes, he's aging (33 in November), yes, Seattle is trying to rebuild, and, yes, Bennett can be controversial. But it's fair to speculate whether he was dealt just before his skills took a sharp decline.
Bennett played 931 of 1,098 snaps (85 percent) last season. Only two other 4-3 ends – Jason Pierre-Paul and Cameron Jordan – played more. He's been playing at that rate for years. But the reduction in snaps he's likely to receive with the Eagles could be just the formula he needs.
Last season, Graham played 666 of 963 snaps (69 percent) when active, Curry 578 of 1,031 (56 percent), Long 495 of 1,031 (48 percent) and Barnett 424 of 963 (44 percent). Long's playing time had been dipping before his arrival, but last season was his lowest percentage and he had arguably his best season in four years.
Of course, he can't quite allow himself to acknowledge that playing less helped his career.
"I don't like to say, 'Hey, man, the rotation helps a lot,' or whatever, because that's buying into the age thing," Long said. "I'm sure Mike feels the same way, I'm sure [Graham] being 30 now feels the same way. If we couldn't still play, we wouldn't be out here."
Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz rotates, first and foremost, because he believes that throwing fresh bodies at an offense will eventually wear down its linemen. But it helps when there isn't a significant drop off in talent.
"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," Schwartz said. "The players like the competition; we like the competition."
It's a puzzle, though. Graham, Long and Bennett have spent most of their careers rushing from the left. Of the three, Bennett has the most experience on the right. The players may say that it doesn't matter where they line up, but it does.
"It depends on who's in there," Graham said. "If you got [Barnett] starting with me, then DB's going to stay on that side and I'm going to stay on the left. If Bennett is in, and I know Bennett likes the left side, I can play both."
Graham and Bennett can also slip inside on third downs. Four and a half of Bennett's sacks last season came when he rushed as a tackle. And Graham's Super Bowl sack of Tom Brady came on an inside rush. One of them will likely rush less from inside, however, because defensive tackle Fletcher Cox isn't often coming off the field in those situations.
"Yeah, you want to be the one to start off the game," Graham said. "But I think with [Bennett] – he's been there enough now I don't think he's going to be a problem. I think it's just more so third downs he's worried about."
Every defensive end wants as many opportunities to rush the quarterback. But will Bennett take a lesser role – as Long and running back LeGarrette Blount did last season – if it's for the betterment of the team?