#2 – Michael Bennett

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Sounds a little silly, doesn’t it?  Michael Bennett isn’t even the best player on his side of the ball – let alone the best player at his position in the NFL, compared to a couple other guys ranked lower on my list – but he’s #2 on the Most Important Seahawks of 2014 list.  And so, here we are.

The Seahawks definitely took a chance in re-signing Bennett in this offseason to a 4-year deal.  He was a priority, to be sure, but when you looked at our cap situation at the time – figuring there were guys in Thomas, Sherman, and Wilson (among others) who would be due to get big raises – the writing was on the wall for some of our other starters and depth guys.  What it eventually boiled down to was the Seahawks losing Red Bryant and Chris Clemons.  He’s going to have to go out there and – with another guy, making the minimum (Marsh perhaps, as a backup to Avril who will start at LEO?) – replace two starting defensive linemen who were productive members of our championship team.

But, really, it doesn’t stop there.  His contract also meant the end of guys like Clinton McDonald and Walter Thurmond.  We could have EASILY re-signed those guys to cap-friendly deals, while maybe also hanging onto guys like Bryant and Clemons for another year.  Thurmond wasn’t a starter, but he would’ve slid right back into our slot-corner role.  And McDonald wasn’t a starter either, but he was a fabulous rotation guy at D-Tackle.  So, you could argue that Bennett is really replacing FOUR guys on our defense.

Obviously, that’s not fair, because we have other, younger guys who will make this team and try to pick up some of the slack, but you can see in the decision-making that this franchise feels Michael Bennett IS that important to our success.

Technically, Bennett is going to take over the starting end spot vacated by Red Bryant.  The 5-tech.  He’ll have to set the edge against the run in our base defense, which is his added responsibility.  He often played at that side of the line last year in passing downs, so you figure his percentage of snaps will go up dramatically.  How dramatically obviously depends on who around him manages to step up and inserts themselves into that rotation.  Someone like O’Brien Schofield – if he keeps playing lights out like he has in these first three pre-season games – could insert himself into that LEO end spot (vacated by Clemons), which would push Avril down to his more-comfortable 5-tech end spot on passing downs, thus pushing Bennett inside to mash against the guards of the league.

Michael Bennett’s value is obviously in his versatility.  He can play both end spots as well as inside and get good push from everywhere.  That’s huge.  These guys don’t grow on trees, so when you find one – like we have with Bennett – you do just about whatever it takes to keep him on your roster.  With him and Avril and Schofield and Mebane/Williams, our pass rush shouldn’t suffer whatsoever from where it was last year.  Remember, this wasn’t the best pass rush in the league; the Seahawks tied for 8th in sacks.  But, of course, you can’t quantify a pass rush’s effectiveness exclusively on sacks.  This line got in the quarterback’s face with regularity, forcing quarterbacks to throw early or change their arm angles.  If we can be AS effective as we were last year, I’d be a VERY happy man.

The key will be the run defense.  With the loss of Bryant, this line got a lot smaller against the run.  Granted, we theoretically CAN run out a jumbo package – with Mebane and Williams on the inside and McDaniel at the 5-tech – but Bennett is your starting end and he’s going to get the majority of snaps on this line.  He’s going to need to prove his mettle at holding that side of the line down and pushing the running back inside.  From what I’ve read, Bennett is no slouch in this regard, so hopefully we won’t miss a beat.

It’s unfair to project numbers on him, so I’ll refrain.  I just want to see him healthy and wreaking havoc as always.  He did, after all, contribute to a reduction of our depth, so obviously we’re going to need to lean on him a little more than others along this line.  If he just does his thing, we should be fine.  And, as a result, his presence opens up opportunities for younger guys to come in here and make an impact.

In the short term, re-signing Bennett may make it tougher on this defensive line to play at a high level.  But, in the long run, getting younger – swapping out Bryant and Clemons for guys like Marsh and Hill and whoever else manages to make this team – will be a boon to our continued success as we push to make this a dynasty NFL fans won’t soon forget.

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