When the New England Patriots opened their training camp on Thursday, defensive lineman Michael Bennett was nowhere to be found. He also was absent on Friday and Saturday, missing all three practice sessions because of a personal matter. On Sunday, finally, the 33-year-old returned to the field and immediately showed why the Patriots went out to acquire him via trade from the Philadelphia Eagles earlier this offseason.
After what was just his fourth practice in a Patriots uniform — Bennett sat out the voluntary portions of spring workouts — the veteran defender stepped in front of the press to talk about his arrival at camp. One of the biggest topics, naturally, was his prior absence. And while Bennett would not go into any detail as to why the team excused him the last three days, he did speak highly of head coach Bill Belichick and how he handled the situation.
“I just had a family issue that I had to go take care of,” Bennett told the reporters present. “I was lucky Coach 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.”
While Belichick is the no-nonsense coach in the NFL — the man who fired up the crowd at the 2017 Super Bowl parade with a ‘no days off’ chant — he also regularly shows that he can connect with his players on a more personal level as well. Bennett experienced this first-hand now, but as he recalled today, he was less sure about it all when he first approached the future Hall of Famer about receiving a practice exemption.
“I think everybody’s always concerned about how their boss is going to take into consideration if something happens back home,” Bennett said. “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. 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, who is on his fourth team since joining the NFL as an undrafted rookie in 2009, is expected to play a considerable role for a Patriots defense that lost Trey Flowers in free agency this offseason. His return and how glowingly he subsequently spoke about Belichick certainly adds further intrigue to his acquisition and first year in New England.