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Bennett, Sowell tangle during Seahawks practice

Michael Bennett goes through defensive drills during a practice last week. (Genna Martin / Associated Press)
Michael Bennett goes through defensive drills during a practice last week. (Genna Martin / Associated Press)
By Gregg Bell Tacoma News Tribune

RENTON, Wash. – The Seahawks’ offensive line remains unsettled.

And confrontational.

Left tackle Bradley Sowell grabbed Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Bennett by both shoulders in a no-pads pass-rushing drill during practice Sunday– then slammed Bennett onto his back to the ground. That started the latest and biggest fight Bennett’s had in his summer full of dust-ups.

An hour later, line coach Tom Cable said Garry Gilliam, the starter at right tackle for the first two preseason games, will get more time at left tackle where he’d been playing from May to August.

Cable also said the team needs to see J’Marcus Webb play in a game at right tackle before it settles on five starting blockers. Webb is expected to play right tackle Thursday in Seattle’s third preseason game, against Dallas.

Asked when he needs to have his starting line set, Cable said: “What day’s the first game? September 11.

“I just think that we have a lot of work to do between now and then to make that decision. Quite honestly, it would really be premature to say, ‘This guy should do this or this guy should do that,’ because we don’t know. We haven’t even seen Webb play yet. It looks like we’re going to this week, so I think until we can evaluate that it’s really difficult to give you that answer.”

Meanwhile, Bennett rages on.

“He’s a passionate guy,” coach Pete Carroll said. “And we got him riled up today.”

In the players’ return to practice after two days off the field, Bennett didn’t like Sowell putting pass rusher Josh Shirley on the ground during that pass-protection drill. Bennett jumped in to take the next snap. Sowell, who had gone out, re-entered to face Bennett. After the snap, Sowell just about tackled him, drawing a flag from one of the officials the team hires to adjudicate practices. Sowell then slammed Bennett to the ground.

The now-helmetless Bennett got to his feet and charged at Sowell, throwing punches at the tackle’s helmet that was still on his head. Teammates and coaches, including Cable, intervened. When Doug Baldwin came down the field from passing drills and got to Bennett alone seconds later, Bennett went after the No. 1 wide receiver. Then Bennett chucked his helmet about 10 yards.

Carroll then came over to talk to Bennett, who then did not participate in the rest of practice.

After it, Bennett and Sowell walked off the field into the locker room side by side. Bennett was calmly talking to Sowell and eventually smiling.

Anyone with ears knows Bennett has been vocally unhappy about his contract that has two years remaining on it. The Seahawks have yet to show a willingness to do anything more than listen to his grievances rather than renegotiate, so as to not set the precedent of re-doing any deal that has multiple years remaining on it. Bennett had a career-high 10 sacks last season, has spent most of games in the opposing backfield the last two seasons as an outside end and inside, rush tackle – and is the 27th-highest-paid defensive end in the league.

Bennett doesn’t like the protection the Seahawks – and pretty much every football team above middle school these days – afford quarterbacks and running backs when they have the ball in practices. Linemen get no safeguards. They do daily, hand-to-hand (and often head) combat each snap, full pads or no pads.

Bennett is also testing Seattle’s offensive line. It could have new starters in all five positions this season and is nowhere near settled, three weeks before the games get real. Rookie guard Germain Ifedi stood up to Bennett after plays early in camp this month. Bennett has also gotten into it with left guard Mark Glowinski and new center Justin Britt.

Bennett may also be – “maybe, yeah,” in Carroll’s words – frustrated by barely playing this preseason. He stood on the sidelines in team workout gear during the exhibition opener at Kansas City; Carroll said the defensive end was ill. The Seahawks pulled him out of Thursday’s second preseason game against Minnesota after the game’s second play.

In other words, there is a lot igniting Bennett’s fire right now.

“He’s got a lot of pride. He’s an incredible competitor. But he’s got to make sure he stays poised so he doesn’t get in trouble. And so we got a good illustration of that today.”

Asked if sensed Bennett may be frustrated also by not playing much so far this preseason, Carroll said: “Maybe, yeah. Do I sense any frustration? I don’t know if I answered the question. Maybe that’s part of it.

“There’s a lot riding on this season – for our whole football team. And we have to deal with that. We have really high expectations. That can heighten the passion and the intensity and all of that. That’s kind of something that we are kind of used to around here.”

Webb hasn’t had much of a chance to know.

He signed with Seattle as a free agent from Oakland this spring, a two-year contract that guarantees him $2.75 million. Three days before the first preseason game, at Kansas City Aug. 13, he sprained his right knee. He’s been wearing a brace and heavy tape on it since. But the former starting tackle with the Raiders and Chicago Bears was back practicing Sunday.

Webb playing right tackle could mean Gilliam goes back to left tackle against the Cowboys Thursday.

Cable said it’s not so late in the preseason that the Seahawks won’t get looks at Gilliam back at left tackle before the regular season.

“No. Oh, no. No. We’re not done with any of that,” Cable said. “You’re going to see a lot of different things this week before it’s over with.”

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