FOXBORO -- Just hours after jetting into town from his home in Hawaii, Patriots defensive lineman newcomer Michael Bennett made his training camp debut on the practice fields of Gillette Stadium Sunday morning.
The former Eagle, Seahawk and Buccaneer – and brother of former Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett – missed the first three days of training camp with his new team, an excused absence due to what the defensive end termed a “family issue.”
Upon arrival he and his trademark undersized shoulder pads were on the practice field taking part fully in a pretty physical practice session, one in which he showed immediate impact in a number of reps in 11-on-11 action.
Bennett called it “exciting” to get on the field in New England for the “special opportunity” that is training camp with his new team. He also laughed off apparent rumors that his absence to open camp might be a retirement, an idea that would be reasonable given his status as a 33-year-old, 12-year veteran.
“I didn't retire, I heard everybody said that I retired. I was laughing at home – laughing – like no, I didn't retire,” Bennett said after his first full-pads Patriots practice. “I was surprised that people thought I would quit. I haven't quit on anything in a long time. I don't even quit when I play my daughter in checkers.”
Bennett also made it quite clear how thankful he was that Bill Belichick allowed him to deal with his personal business, showing understanding that isn’t always evident in the world of professional sports.
“I just had a family issue that I had to go take care of,” Bennett explained. “I was lucky Coach [Bill] Belichick – it's nice when you have a coach that sees you as a human, sees you as a human being, not just a number and you're able to go talk to him, tell him what's going on, and you're able to go take care of it. That just makes you want to play harder for a coach. When he believes in you, and lets you take care of your family first.”
Happy that it worked out and to be back on the field, Bennett admitted he was uncertain at first how Belichick might react to his absence.
“I think everybody's always concerned about how their boss is going to take into consideration if something happens back home, but when you have a boss who respects you as a man, it's easy to go out there and play for him like that,” Bennett said. “I think for me, that's easy to look him in the eye and whatever he asks me to do, I'll do it simply because I know he respects me as a human being and I respect that.”
Bennett looked good in his first practice of the summer, showing quickness and burst that likely stems from staying in shape despite missing OTAs this spring. He also didn’t appear to be dealing with any jet lag or after-effects from his flight earlier in the day. In fact, despite not sleeping on the plane he saw the unique circumstance as an opportunity to show what he’s made of.
“I just flew here this morning, so I just came right to practice. It's important – just the game. You want to prove to your teammates that you love the game,” Bennett explained. “I grew up and this game has been a part of my life for over 20 years, so every time I step on the field and I've got teammates who believe in me, I just want to come out and show them that in every single moment, I'm going to try to go as hard as I can. When you're on a new team and you have to build new relationships, the only type of way to build new relationships is to show everyone the type of work ethic you've got, what you believe in, and how you carry yourself.”
Bennett showed his stuff Sunday morning for coaches, teammates, media and fans alike. And it was a pretty impressive first impression.