FOXBOROUGH — Patriots defensive end Michael Bennett was back at Gillette Stadium on Wednesday after serving a team-imposed, week-long suspension after a disagreement with defensive line coach Bret Bielema.
Bennett said he accepted the suspension but had nothing to take away from it.
“I got suspended, I lost money,” Bennett said. “What am I supposed to take away from that? I mean, there’s no love lost, it’s just how it is.”
Bennett was the Patriots’ highest-profile acquisition in the offseason but hasn’t gotten much playing time this season. His snap counts have steadily decreased — from 55 percent in Week 1 to 22 percent in Week 6, his last game before the suspension. Bennett said in a statement to ESPN last week that he had a “philosophical disagreement” with Bielema. In the statement, Bennett also apologized to teammates for the potential distraction.
“I mean, it’s America,” Bennett said Wednesday. “You can voice your opinion about how you feel about certain situations. That’s what happened.”
Asked if the disagreement was about playing time, Bennett said, “It was just about life.”
Asked if it was all football related or if the philosophical disagreement spanned topics beyond the game, Bennett said, “Both.”
Bennett was initially seen as a rough replacement for Trey Flowers, who departed in free agency this offseason. Things changed, though, when it became clear that a combination of offseason acquisitions, the draft, and the development of in-house talent made it best for the Patriots to switch their base defense from a 4-3 to a 3-4, allowing them to build around their linebacking corps.
That’s meant that Bennett has been asked to spend more time tying up offensive linemen so that other rushers can get to the quarterback, rather than shooting gaps and racking up sacks himself, which he did more of in Seattle and Philadelphia.
He has been productive (2.5 sacks, three tackles for losses) in his limited time, but also has been asked to accept a situational role.
Bennett shrugged when asked if he wanted to be traded.
“It’s up to them,” he said, referencing the Patriots’ front office. “It’s up to the team and how they feel about it. I like playing here.”
Bennett offered that last sentiment unprompted. Earlier in the conversation, when asked if he was happy in New England, he said, “It is what it is.”
Bennett said he was expecting to play Sunday against the Browns. He expressed no anger toward Bielema or the Patriots, but also maintained that it’s his right to speak his mind. He said his mind-set going forward was to “just be myself” and that “you can’t really bite your tongue” when there’s something he feels he needs to say.
“I just say how I feel and then move on from it,” Bennett said. “We’re just all human, we all go through our own situations and you know, you can have conversations and move on from it, that’s how I feel about it.”
Bennett, whose similarly outspoken brother Martellus played for the Patriots in 2016 and part of 2017, said it isn’t difficult to be himself in New England. There are plenty of characters in the Patriots’ organization, though the team’s culture is notoriously strict.
“It’s not hard to be yourself,” Michael Bennett said. “Playing is always one thing, but not playing is always another thing.”
The Patriots’ lack of tolerance for colorful characters or free thinkers is overstated, but criticism for coaches, especially when it might place ego over the good of the team, is a third rail. Bennett, who’s more accustomed to playing every down and making Pro Bowls than he is to fighting for snaps, acknowledged that it’s a tough change for any player.
“It’s always an adjustment when you’re not playing, just getting used to it,” Bennett said. “But we’re winning, and I think that’s the most important thing as a teammate. But I think as an individual you always want to play more and make some more plays.”
Other than Josh Gordon, who was placed on injured reserve Wednesday, three players didn’t participate in practice, as tight ends Ryan Izzo (concussion) and Matt LaCosse (knee), and right guard Shaq Mason (ankle) weren’t able to take part.
Mason is a new addition, though perhaps an unsurprising one. The Patriots’ running game has struggled this year and hasn’t been the same when backs have rushed behind the right side of the line, Mason and Marcus Cannon’s territory. Last year, Patriots running backs were highly productive behind that duo.
In addition to the players missing, running back Rex Burkhead (foot), safety Patrick Chung (heel/chest), receivers Phillip Dorsett (hamstring), Gunner Olszewski (ankle/hamstring), and Julian Edelman (chest) were limited.