Defensive end Michael Bennett spent the voluntary portion of the Eagles' offseason as a husband and a father while training for the 2018 season on his own. As the team opened its mandatory minicamp on Tuesday at the NovaCare Complex, there was Bennett, jersey No. 77, lining up at defensive end with the second-team defense and looking and sounding very much at home in South Philadelphia.
"Oh, it's exciting, man. So many great people, new teammates, getting used to the organization, getting used to the city, it's just fun," Bennett said after practice, surrounded by cameras and reporters in the middle of the field. "You come into a new team, championship mode, lot of great players. It's great bonding time, so it's always good to be here."
Of course, the Eagles are excited to have Bennett in the fold and on the field so they can start to see, in the flesh, how this defensive line is going to look in 2018. As line coach Chris Wilson said on Monday, "We look great on paper," but, naturally, the game isn't played on paper. And the truth is that the Eagles are going to have to sort out the specifics of the defensive line in Training Camp given the absence of Bennett and injuries to end Brandon Graham (ankle), tackle Tim Jernigan (back), and newcomer Haloti Ngata (undisclosed reasons for not practicing on Tuesday).
The gang is not all on the field right now, which is limiting the spring chemistry and on-field mixing and matching of personnel. But that's all going to come in time and there is every reason to believe that the defensive line will be as deep and talented and dynamic as the Eagles think it will be in 2018. Still, ya gotta build chemistry on and off the field.
"It's critical," Wilson said. "We have time to do that. Michael has been in this league a long time. Same with Haloti. It's not going to take them long to understand what we're doing and to develop that trust on the field. I'm excited to work with them. I'm excited to work with this group."
The big story as the Eagles opened minicamp on Tuesday was the return of Bennett, who had been in and out of Philadelphia sparingly since his press conference following the trade with Seattle that brought him to the Eagles. His said that "the offseason always been about being a better parent and a better husband, so every year I work with my kids, teaching at the school, coaching basketball, doing whatever I can." It's hard to argue with how Bennett, who entered the league as an undrafted rookie and who has made the Pro Bowl three times, prepares for the upcoming season.
He said he's "pretty comfortable" with the playbook and the different terminology that goes with a new scheme. Having an established and well-respected coordinator like Jim Schwartz helps. Nobody thinks that Bennett, whose locker at the NovaCare Complex sits between Ngata's and Chris Long's, will have any problems fitting in on and off the field. The culture, which Bennett termed "one of a kind," is established. The tempo is upbeat. The confidence level is sky high.
The plan is for Bennett to be part of a rotating, deep defensive line and to play both end and tackle. He showed on Tuesday great hand movement and quickness off the ball, and Bennett said after practice that he intends to play at his usual high level. Last year for Seattle, Bennett recorded 8.5 quarterback sacks and led the Seahawks with 14 tackles for loss and 24 quarterback hits. He made the Pro Bowl for the third consecutive season.
"I think you come here and you want to be an all-star just like you've been. You want to be one of the top players in the league," Bennett said. "The organization is expecting it. They're expecting me to go out there and dominate on the field. That's my job and obviously every day I take the field, that's my mindset."
Bennett, Seattle's Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee, joins a team that is extremely active in the community, another good fit. He's certainly never been shy about speaking his mind and in a locker room full of veteran leaders, that's going to play just fine.
Really, it was a swell start to minicamp for Bennett and the Eagles. Hunky-dory. The defensive line became a whole lot better when Michael Bennett stepped on the field, the way the Eagles envisioned it when they made the stunning March trade to add impact to the defense.
Check out photos from the Eagles' first day of mandatory minicamp on Tuesday, June 12.