Michael Bennett has been getting dissed. At least in Bennett’s mind.
Disrespected by what he sees as his Seahawks teammates’ dirty tricks during practices, such as blocking him to the ground in no-pads drills and hitting him well after plays have ended.
Disrespected, too, by the fact he’s a Super Bowl-winning and Pro Bowl veteran who is coming off a career year — yet is the league’s 27th-highest paid defensive end, at a base salary of $4 million this year.
All this has been driving him “insane.”
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To him, that means it’s time to fight.
“I think it just came down to disrespect,” Bennett said Monday of his latest fight in practice, this time with left tackle Bradley Sowell on Sunday. It was the third practice from which coaches have tossed Bennett this month.
“I’m from Texas. It’s a lot different from a lot of the places over here.”
For sure, this is a different year for Bennett. The 30-year-old father of three daughters is trying to earn all the money, and preserve all the future earning capacity, he can before his skills and health at one of the sport’s most physically demanding positions diminish with age.
“I feel like I’m different in the sense that my level of play is at the highest level it’s ever been,” he said.
When Bennett entered the league in 2009 as an undrafted free agent, he was fueled by a sense of proving everyone wrong. Now it’s his sense of perseverance that sparked him to charge and throw punches at Sowell, at Doug Baldwin when the wide receiver tried to intervene on Sunday and at Germain Ifedi plus fellow starting offensive linemen Justin Britt and Mark Glowinski earlier in training camp.
“I think definitely there’s a fine line in the NFL where a guy beats a guy ... but then when it goes beyond the play, dirty kind of plays at practice. I think that’s where it crosses the line,” Bennett said.
“For me, I don’t really treat the game like a game. I treat it like a job in the sense of feeding my family, so if I feel like somebody’s doing something to injure, I feel like he’s taking food out of my daughter’s mouth or my wife’s. So I take that to heart.
“That drives me insane, especially if we’re on the same team. It’s different if we’re on a different team. But if we’re on the same team I feel like we should respect each other where we aren’t trying to hurt each other. I think everybody’s a valuable part of the team and everybody should be treated valuably on the team at the end of the day.”
Bennett and Sowell walked off the field together talking on Sunday, and Sowell said they ate lunch together after their fight. The offensive tackle called them “like brothers,” fighting and making up.
Asked how he has been able to make amends so easily in these practices immediately after he’s been thrown out of them, Bennett flashed his characteristic humor.
“It’s easy,” he said. “I have a wife. Come on!”
But Bennett made it clear he wouldn’t have done to Sowell what Sowell did to him.
Bennett took exception to Sowell knocking defensive end Josh Shirley to the ground. For the next snap Sunday, Bennett jumped into the drill. The exited Sowell jumped back in to face him. And it was on. Sowell grabbed Bennett by both shoulders and hip-threw him. Bennett’s back thudded to the turf.
“I respect him. I would never do anything like that to him,” Bennett said. “So I think after I approached him and let him know my mindset to how I play the game, how I approach the game, he understands why he shouldn’t do that kind of stuff.”
Then Bennett added that his thinking is different than Sowell’s.
“I’m taking the game to a whole other level,” he said. “I’m just trying to be the best pro possible every day when I step on the field.”
Bennett mentioned a “code” of what not to do to teammates in NFL practices. It’s a mandate he believes Seattle’s offensive line, one that could have new starters at all five positions this season, has yet to learn. He said it’s a code now-departed offensive linemen such as Russell Okung, Max Unger and J.R. Sweezy knew.
Incidentally, the only one of the five current starting offensive linemen with which Bennett hasn’t fought this month is the lone returning starter, Garry Gilliam.
“It’s a new group of guys, it’s a whole new offensive line,” Bennett said. “Before, it was guys you have played with for a long time, almost three or four years you hang with these guys. It’s just a bunch of new guys and there’s a code. I think in the NFL, where a lot of guys think there is a lot of problems in the NFL, when it comes to injuries and concussions and stuff like that, but a lot of the time I feel like it’s the players who can really control what happens to each other.
“I think there’s a code where we have to find that line and when it becomes more about the other person’s safety than it is about the game. I think that’s where it goes to about the person’s family ... where you have to draw the line.”
Other than sending him away from scrimmaging to cool off, coaches have mostly condoned Bennett’s fighting. Coach Pete Carroll lauded Bennett on Sunday for his passion.
Bennett brushed off the question as to whether his fighting is a potential distraction to the team.
“It’s a whole bunch of alpha males running around here ..., ” he said. “At the end of the day we are all fighting for a spot.
“It’s different than being a reporter. You’re not really fighting. You’re fighting with a pen.”
Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle