There was some mystery if Michael Bennett would be on the field when the Seahawks opened training camp, but the Pro Bowl defensive end, who has publicly expressed concerns about his contract in the past, was there Saturday morning with his teammates when practice began.
"I just wanted to show up and be a great teammate, no distractions for the team," Bennett said. "I just want to be a Seahawk for the rest of my life, that's the most important thing.
"I'm just trying to do whatever the team asks me to do, play at a high level, and everything will take care of itself… We've got a great owner, Paul Allen, great coaches, so it's all up to what they want to do. I just want to come in and be a great player and do whatever I can to help the team win and get back to the Super Bowl in Houston, that's the only thing that matters."
In addition to making plays on the field and hyping up fans on the sideline, leading a "Sea-Hawks!" chant, Bennett was also demonstrating some of the leadership that has made him so important to the team during Seattle's first practice, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said.
"He brought a bunch of juice today," Carroll said. "He was in great spirits, he had a great attitude about it. He's just being the Michael Bennett that he is. Mike is a tremendous team player, and he has always been that—not to even mention his ability—he's a great factor on this club. That's why we want him to be here, we want to figure out how to make him a Seahawk until he's finished playing football."
Last season, the Seahawks opened camp without Kam Chancellor, and that holdout extended all the way into the regular season, while the year before, it was Marshawn Lynch sitting out in hopes of getting a new deal. Opening camp without that type of distraction this year is a big deal according to Carroll.
"It is important, it's really important," Carroll said. "There's a really strong messaging in our locker room, these guys want to be part of this thing, they don't want to be the one who disrupts it, they don't want to be part of that. We went through a real learning process last year with one of our great players and great competitors in Kam. I think he's helped people understand what that's all about. He has been a big inspiration, I think anyone would think that way. I think it also shows that they trust that we're going to work like crazy to get things done and help these guys for their specific situations, which we're going to try to do, always."
Regardless of what Bennett thinks about his current contract, it's a topic he'd rather let his representation and the Seahawks sort out while he focuses on football.
"You've got to talk to the team about it," he said. "You've got to talk to my agent, talk to (general manager) John (Schneider) and Pete and (president) Peter (McLoughlin), you can talk to them about that. I'm just here to be a great player and a great teammate and just be what I can be for the team."
And as Bennett stood in front of reporters and cameras Saturday, he did so not in his practice jersey, but in the "Black Lives Matter" T-shirt he had been wearing underneath it. Bennett has never been shy about speaking up on important non-football matters, and was ready to do so again at the start of training camp, both with his shirt and his words.
"It means everything to me," Bennett said of his wardrobe choice. "It's about social change and change economically. With everything going on in society right now, you just want to be a great advocate for speaking up when things are going on, and make sure the youth has great influences.
"Being a professional athlete, you want to be a great influence, you don't want to show bad character, because so many people look up to you as role model, especially in the communities that most of us grew up in, so I just want to be a great role model and influence."
Bennett noted that when kids he meets tell him that they look up to him, he likes to ask why. And while he takes a lot of pride in his on-field performance, Bennett hopes kids don't admire him for his football skills.
"That's a terrible reason to have a role model," Bennett said. "A role model, you've got to look into their true character and what they do off the field. There's a lot of great athletes who are so great at their sports, but it's about what they do off the field. How they are to their wife? How they are to their kids? What they do for the community, their philanthropy. That's what I consider a great role model and that's what I want to exemplify."
Carroll, a coach who has found success in part by embracing individualism, likes that players like Bennett, or like Richard Sherman, who has talked about race on multiple occasions, are willing to speak their minds on serious and sometimes controversial topics.
"I'm grateful that our guys are working at their thoughts and they're working at what they're saying, and they're trying to come to their own decisions about how things fit," Carroll said. "It's not clear-cut—people think very differently about all these things that are going on, which is a good thing."
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More than 2,500 fans came out for the first day of the Seahawks' 2016 training camp at Renton's Virginia Mason Athletic Center.