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Bennett’s versatility key in second stint with Seahawks

By Danny O’Neil

RENTON – Michael Bennett entered the NFL as a player without a position in the eyes of some scouts.

A tweener, so to speak, because while he was an accomplished defensive lineman at Texas A&M, the knock was that he would be too small to play defensive tackle in the NFL and too slow to project as a pass-rushing defensive end.

That’s kind of odd in retrospect since it’s Bennett’s ability to play multiple positions that might be his biggest asset now that he’s in Seattle on a one-year deal after recording nine sacks for Tampa Bay last season.

“We really want to feature Mike as an inside rusher in passing-down situations,” coach Pete Carroll said after Tuesday’s minicamp practice. “But his versatility is such that he can play both end spots.”

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Defensive lineman Michael Bennett signed a one-year deal with the Seahawks in March after spending the last four seasons in Tampa Bay. (Rod Mar, Seattle Seahawks)

Versatility. That’s the buzz word for Seattle’s defensive line as every one of the Seahawks’ defensive linemen is learning at least two positions this offseason. Bennett, on the other hand, has played all four and that flexibility has been more of a necessity than a luxury given all the moving parts on Seattle’s defensive line this offseason.

Chris Clemons – last year’s starting defensive end – is recovering from knee surgery, and while the Seahawks haven’t ruled out the possibility that he will be ready to begin the regular season, there’s no guarantee of that, either. Bruce Irvin backed up Clemons a year ago, but not only will he be suspended the first four games of the season, he’s playing some strongside linebacker this season.

Then there’s Cliff Avril, a marquee defensive addition for Seattle this offseason along with Bennett and cornerback Antoine Winfield. Avril returned to the field Tuesday, but was limited to individual drills as he recovers from plantar fasciitis.

Bennett has provided flexibility amidst all that uncertainty as he returned to the team where he began his NFL career as an undrafted rookie in 2009, making the team out of training camp.

Bennett, who weighs 274 pounds, didn’t appear in a game for the Seahawks in 2009, and was released in the second month of the season when Seattle was forced to add another left tackle. Bennett was claimed by Tampa Bay, where he recorded 14 sacks over the past two seasons, and amidst a slow free-agent market, opted to join the Seahawks on a one-year deal.

Now, the guy that so many worried wouldn’t have a true position in the NFL is showing what a value his versatility is.

“Maybe that knock helped me become a better player,” Bennett said. “I’m happy to be able to play all those different positions.”

The Seahawks signed Bennett with the intention of plugging him into the spot Jason Jones filled last season as the pass-rushing defensive tackle on passing downs, but he has proven himself capable of filling more than one hole in Seattle’s defensive packages.

“We feel like we have a good sense for that already,” Carroll said, “and he’s got a great work ethic, too, that he adds to the team.”

Off on the wrong foot

Tight end Zach Miller sat out practice with a sore foot Tuesday, watching the workout while wearing a plastic protective boot. And while that’s the same foot Miller injured in Atlanta during the playoffs – suffering a torn fascia in the first half – that’s where the similarities to Miller’s current situation end.

“Not the same thing,” Carroll said. “He’s just got a sore foot.”

Miller’s absence left Sean McGrath and rookie Luke Willson as the two tight ends getting most of the work along with Cooper Helfet. Carroll said he did not have any long-term concerns about Miller’s injury.

“It’s not going to be a serious problem,” Carroll said. “Just a little rest.”

Wide receiver Percy Harvin (hip flexor), guard James Carpenter (knee surgery) and cornerback Tharold Simon (foot) did not participate in practice, either.

Breno back

Breno Giacomini was back at practice, returning to Seattle after undergoing tests on his knee in New York last week.

“He’s fine,” Carroll said. “All the reports came back really solid and that he was OK, which was really good for his mindset. He needed to know that. He’s ready to go.”

Giacomini worked alongside guard John Moffitt with Seattle’s first-unit offensive line on Tuesday. Moffitt will be competing with J.R. Sweezy for the starting job at that spot.

Fingers crossed for Chris

Clemons returned to Seattle this week, attending the team’s mandatory minicamp. Clemons is recovering from knee surgery to repair a torn ligament he suffered in Seattle’s first-round playoff game at Washington.

He has been rehabilitating on his own, and while Carroll offered no firm timeline for Clemons’ return, he did not rule out the possibility that the team’s top pass rusher each of the past three seasons will be ready to play in the opener.

“The doctors say he’s in great shape,” Carroll said. “He’s ahead and all of that. He has worked diligently to get there. Is he going to make it by the first game? I don’t know. He has a chance, and if it can happen, he’ll make it happen. But like I said the whole time, we will not rush that. We’re going to take our time on that and make sure he’s right.”