KAHUKU, Hawaii—San Francisco 49ers tackle Joe Staley couldn't believe it.
There's no way that Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett, an NFC West opponent Staley has faced seven times over the past three seasons and his teammate on Team Irvin in this year's Pro Bowl, had never earned Pro Bowl honors before this season.
"This isn't his first one?" Staley said. "You mean like the first he came to, right?"
Nope, first time Bennett has even been honored.
"No way," Staley said. "That's very surprising. I thought he just hadn't come because of Super Bowls."
When Packers guard Josh Sitton said of Bennett, "I don't think he's been out here nearly enough (Pro Bowls)," he too was surprised that this was in fact Bennett's first.
"This is his first one?" Sitton said. "That's crazy. That's nuts. He's hard to block, man."
The reason Bennett's NFC foes are so shocked to learn that the Seahawks defensive end is a Pro Bowler for the first time in his seven-year career is because they know just what a handful Bennett can be to play against.
"He's, in my opinion, probably the top defensive end in the NFL," Staley said. "He does so many different things, so he's hard to prepare for. It's hard to describe it too, it's kind of a slipperiness. It's hard to get your hands on him. He does a good job of controlling his body and fighting off blocks and taking away your game plan against him."
Making things even more difficult for opposing linemen when it comes to Bennett is that no player knows when he may draw the assignment of blocking Bennett because he moves around the line so much.
"Everybody has to prepare for him, because he's going to see everybody," Staley said. "That speaks to how talented an athlete his is."
Sitton, whose Packers have faced the Seahawks three times since Bennett signed with Seattle in 2013, called Bennett, "One of those rare guys that's smaller than a normal guy who's going to play inside, but he has the power to do it. Most guys that size can't do that. He has the ability to use his hands, use power, or run around you, that's what makes him so good. He's extremely explosive off the ball. He's a hell of a player."
Bennett, who finished with a career-high 10 sacks, 18 tackles for loss and 52 tackles, has been appreciated for what he brings to the team by his Seahawks teammates ever since he joined them in 2013, but as his first Pro Bowl nod shows, he is just now starting to be recognized by fans, coaches and the entire league for how disruptive and talented he really is.
"It's a great experience to be out here, being around so many great players, great teammates I've played with before, and just get the chance to be around a lot of great players," said Bennett, who's offseason home is in Hawaii. "It has been fun. It has been good to get to know some of the guys I've played against. I've had a good time so far."
And while Bennett would have liked to have earned an invite to this game sooner—and probably deserved one, especially last year—waiting this long allows him to appreciate this week even more.
"Finally getting a chance to be here, probably makes me a little more thankful for the opportunity," he said. "I feel like I should have been here sooner, but it's just cool to get a chance to finally come out here."
Part of enjoying this week for Bennett has been reconnecting with former Buccaneers teammates, a reunion that even included crashing their team photo Friday.
"It's always fun to see those guys," Bennett said. "A lot of us came in at the same time. They're Pro Bowlers, I'm a Pro Bowler; I'm a Super Bowl champion, they're not. No, it's cool to see those guys. I still have a good relationship with them. I still talk to Gerald (McCoy) all the time during the season, we're good friends, Lavonte (David), all those guys. It's cool."
Saturday practices for both Team Irvin and Team Rice were short and sweet as players were eager to spend a Saturday with family and friends exploring the island.