In a short period of time, Michael Bennett has come a long way.
The veteran defensive end, quiet with the media for much of the season, opened up on Thursday in front of his locker at the NovaCare Complex, saying the 2018 season, his first with the Eagles, is one of the best in his 10 NFL seasons.
"There was a lot of change for me and I had to do a lot of different things and I think I got better as a player," Bennett said. "I switched from being on the left to being on the right and I still made plays. For me it was a productive season, whether it was quarterback hits, pressures of TFLs (tackles for loss). It's exciting and next year is going to be even better."
Bennett, acquired in a trade from Seattle as the free agency period opened in March, leads the Eagles in quarterback sacks with eight (just two short of his career high, set in 2015 when he played in Seattle) and tackles for loss (12). His 47 combined quarterback hits/pressures rank second behind Fletcher Cox. All of this despite some lower-than-he's-used-to snap counts from earlier in the season when the Eagles had a deeper rotation and used Bennett as a reserve in a defensive end group that included Brandon Graham, Chris Long, and Derek Barnett. But Barnett hasn't played since October 21, against Carolina, and was placed on season-ending Injured Reserve with a shoulder injury. The Eagles also used rookie Josh Sweat in the rotation just a bit, but he is also shelved for the season.
For the last few weeks, it's been all Bennett, Graham, and Long and the veterans have delivered.
Being traded in the NFL is difficult for a veteran player who gave as much to Seattle – the Seahawks and the city – as Bennett did in his five seasons there. Bennett had to move his family, he had to learn a new defensive system and a new way of playing defensive end, he had to assimilate into the locker room and the organization, and he had to feel out the City of Philadelphia. Added to that, the guy wanted to play from the very start of the season – as many snaps as he could possibly get.
But the Eagles had depth at defensive end and they wanted to keep their rotation as fresh as possible and that tested Bennett in a way he hadn't been tested in the NFL.
"I think after Week 3 or Week 4, it was hard because I wasn't playing," Bennett said. "I wasn't used to not playing. At critical moments I'm just sitting on the sideline like, 'I got skills! I'm over here! I can do this! Put me in the game!' Once they started putting me in the game, things started flowing my way.
"I learned a lot about myself. It was one of those things where I had to – people look up to me a lot for inspiration and for a lot of things that I do and I always talk about adversity – and you can talk to people when they're going through adversity and when they're going through certain situations and then it comes your turn and you have to swallow your own pills that you're telling people to (swallow) and I think for me I had to be able to stand up and be able to say, 'This is a little bit different for me, but I have to be able to adjust.'
"I think every great player has to be able to adjust to their situations."
It was a large adjustment – Seattle head coach Pete Carroll does things his way and Eagles head coach Doug Pederson does it the way he feels is best. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has his unique methods. Playing next to Fletcher Cox took some time to perfect.
"I think I've done a great job of it (adjusting)," Bennett said.
The task for Sunday is huge. The defensive line led the way Sunday night in the win at Los Angeles that has given this team postseason life. How can the line replicate the tremendous energy they played with in Dallas and then in Los Angeles? The Eagles are still in must-win mode, as we all know.
"It's hard to do exactly what you did against the Rams, but every week it's easy for us to get up because we know this opportunity could mean one less game the following week," Bennett said. "For us, it's about keeping those opportunities alive. The only way to keep those opportunities alive is to win the game and I think for us we've just got to focus on winning those games and focus on one game at a time and try to dominate.
"This is a great challenge for a defensive line. You look across (the field) and you see J.J. Watt, you see (Jadeveon) Clowney on that side and you look on our sideline and you say, 'Who's going to be the best D-line'? When we played against the Rams, you looked at Aaron Donald and (Ndamukong) Suh and it's like me and Fletch and we're like, 'We need to be better than those guys.' I think at the end of the day that's what it comes down to."