FOXBOROUGH — Michael Bennett arrived at Gillette Stadium this week for the first time as a member of the Patriots. He couldn’t believe he was walking the same hallowed grounds as some of the NFL’s greatest ever.
But Bennett wasn’t googly-eyed and sentimental about being on the same team as Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. Bennett is a defensive guy, after all.
“Growing up, Richard Seymour was one of my favorite players,” said Bennett, 33, while coming off the practice field Tuesday. “And to think that I get to walk in the same locker room that he played in, and I get to sit in the same place, is just an honor for me to even think about that.”
Bennett was an impressionable high school and college player in Texas when Seymour was dominating the trenches and the Patriots were winning their first three Super Bowls. And the Patriots apparently made quite the impression on him.
Speaking with reporters following the first of three mandatory minicamp practices, Bennett started rattling off the names: Seymour. Vince Wilfork. Ty Warren. Andre Carter. Willie McGinest. Tedy Bruschi. Ty Law.
“Just so many great players,” Bennett said. “And the opportunity to get a chance to play here, follow those guys, is just amazing.”
A few questions later, Bennett was asked if the Patriots feel like a team coming off a Super Bowl win.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I just got here.”
That’s because Bennett was still soaking in the atmosphere and adjusting to his new surroundings. The Patriots made a trade with the Eagles for Bennett in March, but he hasn’t been attending voluntary workouts this offseason, choosing to remain at home with his family in Hawaii.
Tuesday’s practice was Bennett’s first in a Patriots uniform, but the Patriots don’t seem to mind that he has been working out on his own. They gave him a slight pay bump in April, giving Bennett a chance to make between $7 million and $9 million this year.
“It feels really good to be on the team and get out here and get to know your teammates,” Bennett said. “I just think you get camaraderie. You get to spend time with your teammates and learn each other, and that’s the most important thing about OTAs and minicamp.”
Bennett, an 11-year veteran who made the Pro Bowl each year from 2015-17, said he didn’t expect a trade to the Patriots this offseason.
“I guess I was caught off-guard,” he said. “But at the same time, I got a chance to talk to Bill and learned the expectations, and thought it was a good opportunity to play on a team that’s always competing for things.”
Bennett seems like a good fit in Foxborough. He seems to have the same mentality as a certain quarterback about career longevity.
“I just want to prove that quarterbacks aren’t the only people who can get better with age,” he said in April to a Honolulu TV station.
The Patriots have a good history with the Bennett family. Younger brother Martellus Bennett was a valuable part of the offense in 2016 as the Patriots won their fifth Super Bowl. Now they hope Michael Bennett, 16 months older than his brother, can help replace Trey Flowers as a pass rusher both on the edge and along the interior.
Bennett has reached double-digit sacks only one time in his career (10 in 2015), but he can play both defensive end and tackle, had nine sacks last year for the Eagles, and was unblockable against the Patriots in Super Bowl XLIX when he was with the Seahawks. Bennett said he hadn’t spoken about that game with anyone since arriving in Foxborough.
“I don’t think that game comes up,” he said. “I think we’re all focused on the task at hand.”
Martellus Bennett came back to the Patriots for a few weeks in 2017, and there was a little buzz about a Bennett brothers reunion this year, but the younger brother is retired from the NFL and not coming back.
“He tried to give me some advice [about the Patriots], but you know, big brothers don’t take advice from little brothers,” Michael Bennett quipped. “I didn’t try to convince him to come here.
“I think the most important thing for a person is to make his own decisions. I think my brother is in a position where he feels comfortable with what he’s achieved in the league and achieved in life.”
Bennett is similar to his younger brother in that he isn’t afraid to speak his mind. In 2017, he sat for the national anthem, and he has been an outspoken supporter of Bernie Sanders.
Bennett also has had a few incidents off the field. At the Patriots’ 2017 Super Bowl win, Bennett was charged with allegedly injuring an elderly, disabled worker at the stadium, though the charges were eventually dropped this past April. And in August 2017, he claimed police brutality in an incident outside a Las Vegas nightclub, but the police countered that Bennett was not mistreated.
But Bennett was reserved and guarded Tuesday, showing that he already knows how to blend in with the Patriots.
“Everything’s good, you know,” he said. “Great coaches, great players around. Definitely high standards out here, and that’s what I’m used to.
“When I was a young kid, I always used to like watching the Patriots play on defense, and now I got a chance to be here. It just feels really good.”