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Reading Between the Lines: Michael Bennett edition

49ers-Seahawks-Footba Eato
Through three games, versatile defensive lineman Michael Bennett (72) leads the Seahawks in sacks with 2.5. (AP)

By Danny O’Neil

There’s not much to read into a 28-point victory.

At least not when the team was favored to win by 20 as Seattle was this week. So instead of taking a wide-angle view of coach Pete Carroll’s day-after dissection of his team’s 45-17 victory over Jacksonville, let’s put a microscope on his discussion of the newcomer who has made the most dramatic impact through three games: defensive lineman Michael Bennett.

Bennett was signed to a one-year deal from Tampa Bay this season, a former undrafted free agent who made the Seahawks’ 53-man roster coming out of training camp in 2009 only to be waived when the team felt a roster crunch at left tackle.

While the acquisition of Percy Harvin was Seattle’s headline addition this offseason and Cliff Avril had been a more proficient pass rusher over the past two seasons, Bennett has made the immediate impact. He had 1.5 sacks against the Jags Sunday, another tackle for a loss and in just three weeks he has shown an ability to play up and down Seattle’s line.

Here’s a look at what Carroll was asked about Bennett, his actual answers and then a translation of what he really meant. Keep in mind, no translation is literal and these interpretations are seasoned with a little good-natured sarcasm.

Question: As you get closer to getting your full complement back on the defensive line, how much more important is Bennett’s versatility?

What Carroll actually said: “I don’t know if it will be more important, but he has demonstrated he can do a lot of stuff. If you look at the different spots he lined up at Sunday, that was about everywhere you could put a D-lineman.”

What Carroll meant: His versatility is already pretty darn important. It’s certainly not going to become any less so as Chris Clemons starts playing more and Bruce Irvin returns from his suspension. You know the old saying, right? The more you can do, well, the more you can do.

What Carroll actually said: “He attacks. He’s very effective. Like I said this morning, he’s more than we thought he was. He’s got more variety to his game and it comes out of just the tenacity and the motor that he has. We’re real excited about it … For years, we’ve been looking for inside presence in the pass rush. I think this is the best shot we have right now.”

What Carroll meant: This is what we hoped Jason Jones would be last year. Or an even better version of Raheem Brock circa 2010. It’s that guy who’s quicker than a defensive tackle, but stronger than a defensive end and gives an opposing offensive line headaches trying to figure out just where he’s going to come from.

Question: What makes it hard to find that interior pass rush?

What Carroll actually said: “You’ve got to find really fast big guys. That’s what there is the fewest of. There’s fast little guys, and there’s lots of big guys, but the combination doesn’t exist. He has very, very good quickness and he’s strong enough and big enough. He’s not an overly big guy. He’s 280-something, but he definitely has the quickness and that burst that really makes a difference.”

What Carroll meant: He’s kind of a tweener, if we’re going to be honest about it, and the reason he was undrafted coming out of Texas A&M was because no team was certain exactly where he’d fit. Because while he may be faster than a defensive tackle, he doesn’t have the size you generally want at that position. While he’s bigger than a defensive end, his straight-ahead speed isn’t up to specs there. But what no one anticipated was his quickness off the line combined with his relentless effort, and you’ve got yourself a guy who’s not a tweener nearly so much as someone who can fit anywhere along the line.

Question: He’s quite a bit lighter than some of the guys you’ve had at the two spots he’s primarily playing. Is it his quickness that really allows him to play that spot?

What Carroll actually said: “He’s not the fastest guy, but he plays with great quickness. What he gives up in some areas because he’s not as big as the guys we’ve had – he’s not 325 or something like that – he makes up in other ways, so that’s why you see him moving around and playing a lot of different spots because we think we can put him in places where we can take advantage of what he’s good at.”

What Carroll actually meant: Boy, we can’t slip anything past you reporters, can we? Regular Sherlock Holmes over here who’s able to see Bennett is not as big as Red Bryant or as tall as Tony McDaniel, but darned if he doesn’t have some other traits that we’ve found a way to maximize.

What Carroll actually said: “He’s different. He’s a different guy. This is a classic example of what I’ve tried to explain to you guys. We’re looking for guys with special qualities. We’re not just looking for cookie-cutter guys. We want guys that have something. He has something really unique about him, and like I’m saying, it’s his tenacity, that speed, that anticipation that he has that makes him special … That’s a real classic example of a guy we brought into the program and tried to adjust to what he does.”

What Carroll meant: Just as we don’t have height requirements at quarterback, we don’t have weight requirements on the defensive line. Instead of stating how heavy the guy must be to play that position, we look at what he brings to the table and see if there’s a way we can incorporate that into our defense. Where some teams look at a square peg and say it won’t fit the round hole in the team’s formula, we wonder just how we might be able to use that square peg.