It has been a month of "real life" for Michael Bennett as he recovered from knee surgery that caused him to miss Seattle's last five games. Instead of sacking quarterbacks or hitting running backs in the backfield, the Seahawks defensive end has stayed busy taking his three daughters to school, cleaning the kitchen and even "painting my daughters' nails and stuff like that. You have to do daddy stuff when you're at home."
Bennett was back on the practice field Wednesday, however, and is expected back for Sunday's game against the Carolina Panthers, and while that might be bad news for the Bennett girls' nails, it's very good news for the Seahawks defense.
"It's going to be great that he's back," said defensive end Cliff Avril. "He's a leader, just his presence, people respect him, so it's definitely going to help us out overall."
Avril has not only been one of the league's best pass-rushers in Bennett's absence, he has also had to take on a little bit more of a vocal role in the defense, one he says he'll gladly give back to Bennett.
"I had to be a little more vocal," Avril said. "I'm usually the quiet guy. Directing the D-line from left end or right end is harder than for somebody who's in the middle, so he can direct it a little easier. And he's the more vocal guy, so he makes things happen. It's great to have him back.
Avril could also have a little easier time rushing quarterbacks now that teams will again have to put more energy into stopping Bennett.
"You get a little more attention, I guess," Avril said of playing without Bennett. "Hopefully they might pay him a little more mind and leave me one-on-one or something. We'll see."
While the Seahawks would certainly have preferred to have had Bennett all season, they might be better off in the long run for having to play five games without their Pro Bowl defensive end. In Bennett's absence, second-year defensive end Frank Clark went from being a situational player to a starter who in recent weeks has led Seattle defensive linemen in playing time, and Cassius Marsh has also seen his role increase with Bennett out.
"I think it definitely has (helped Clark and Marsh)," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "I think we're very fortunate that Frank was able to step into that spot. We saw Frank play really good football, and with more exposure, he just showed up more. It gives us a really good opportunity for rotation and it was a good thing for us. I think anybody who gets to play midyear like this, who hasn't been playing much, is a benefit for our team, as well as the individual."
And the way Clark, Marsh and others stepped up in Bennett's absence is just one example of how the Seahawks, and their defensive in particular, have leaned on their depth this year and seen those players come through to the point that the Seahawks once again lead the NFL in scoring defense despite playing games without Bennett, Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas, DeShawn Shead, Mike Morgan and others.
"I think we've seen our guys keep their style and we haven't lost our style of play," Carroll said. "… The philosophy is in hand, and the guys stepped in and they did their job to maintain it. I thought there was some tremendous illustrations of that. Steven Terrell played really good last week, it was great to see Neiko (Thorpe) play like he did, Frank stepping up in Mike's role, he did a beautiful job. There's other guys who have contributed, and that's just a good sign for us. We're real happy that the depth came through for us."
Between washing dishes and painting nails, Bennett watched his teammates play in his absence and came away equally impressed.
"I think Frank has played good," he said. "Cliff and Frank are playing really good. Cliff is playing at a defensive MVP level. Both guys have done really well. I think defense has done really well. Everybody is playing pretty good. We just have to keep playing good."
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