Michael Bennett added to pass-rush mix

Posted Mar 16, 2013

Pete Carroll wasn’t kidding when the Seahawks’ coach said you can never have enough pass rushers, as the team followed with the signing of Cliff Avril and also adding Michael Bennett.

During Thursday afternoon’s announcement that the Seahawks had signed defensive end Cliff Avril in free agency, coach Pete Carroll offered, “I just don’t feel like you can have enough speed pass rushers on your club.”

From Carroll’s lips to the busy fingers of general manager John Schneider.

Michael Bennett, a free-agent defensive end from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, agreed to terms with the Seahawks later in the day and signed his one-year contract Friday.

Carroll’s priority entering the offseason was to improve a pass rush that produced 36 sacks last season, and in a matter of hours Schneider had made two moves aimed at doing just that. While Avril had 20.5 sacks the past two seasons with the Detroit Lions, Bennett produced a career-high nine for the Bucs last season.

And while the 6-foot-3, 260-pound Avril is an edge rusher to enhance and complement the contributions of Chris Clemons and Bruce Irvin, Bennett has the size (6-4, 274) to also play the three-technique tackle spot in the nickel line that opened this week when Jason Jones signed with the Lions in free agency.

Bennett, 27, is returning to the Seahawks. He was signed as a free agent after the 2009 NFL Draft and showed enough during training camp and the preseason, when he had two sacks, that the club carried 11 defensive linemen on its opening-day roster – ends Patrick Kerney and Cory Redding and tackles Brandon Mebane and Colin Cole, the starters; incumbent backups Red Bryant, Craig Terrill, Lawrence Jackson and Darryl Tapp; and the rookie trio of Nick Reed, Derek Walker and Bennett.

Bennett was released on a Saturday in October, to clear a roster spot for a needed left tackle (Kyle Williams), with the intention of signing him to the practice squad. Instead, the Buccaneers claimed Bennett off waivers. In three-plus seasons in Tampa, Bennett produced 98 tackles, 15 sacks and four forced fumbles.

His first NFL start? That came in Week 16 of the 2010 season against – you guessed it – the Seahawks. Bennett had two tackles in the Buccaneers’ 38-15 victory.

Now he’s back to help a Seahawks’ pass rush that produced 33 sacks in 2011 and upped that by three last season. Clemons has 33.5 sacks in his first three seasons with the club, but he’s recovering from surgery to repair the ligament he tore in his left knee during the wild-card victory over the Washington Redskins in January. Irvin led all NFL rookies with eight sacks last season after being selected in the first round of the NFL Draft, but six of his sacks came in three games and he had one sack in the final six regular-season games.

Carroll wanted more, and a defense that led the league in average points allowed and ranked No. 4 in average yards allowed needed more after tying for 21st in sacks last season.

Now, help has arrived in Bennett and Avril. How new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn utilizes all these pass-rushing bodies remains to be seen, but his options definitely have been expanded after what Schneider has been able to do in the first four days of the free-agency period.

“We’ll use them all on third downs in different packages,” Carroll said after the addition of Avril had become official but before Bennett had signed his deal. “We’re going to mix the play of these guys to keep them fresh and strong and really keep the tempo of our pass rush at a real peak. That’s real important to us.”