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Sports >  Seattle Seahawks

Seahawks can thank Atlanta coach Dan Quinn for bringing back Michael Bennett

Seattle’s Michael Bennett  brings down Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff in the second half during a  Dec. 15 game in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)
Seattle’s Michael Bennett brings down Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff in the second half during a Dec. 15 game in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)
By Bob Condotta Seattle Times

SEATTLE – Seahawks coach Pete Carroll says in retrospect he doesn’t think he felt any differently after the 2012 season than he has after any other.

“If I don’t say that we need more pass rush after every year then I’m screwed up,” Carroll said this week, alluding to the importance of always looking for more pass rushers. “You’ve probably heard that every season.”

Still, it was regarded as a definite area of need for the Seahawks following the 2012 season – which after a late-season run established Seattle as a team of the future ended in a devastating 30-28 divisional playoff loss at Atlanta, where Seattle heads this week for another divisional playoff game this Saturday.

The Seahawks played that game without Chris Clemons, who tore an ACL in a win the week before at Washington, making his status for the 2013 season somewhat uncertain.

That had Seattle using Bruce Irvin and Greg Scruggs, each rookies, as two of its three primary pass rushing ends against the Falcons (Red Bryant was the other starting end). Many have theorized it was concern over the pass rush that led the Seahawks to blitz on the final two Atlanta plays, which helped the Falcons move 41 yards on two passes to get into position for a winning field goal with 8 seconds left.

Whether Carroll says anything was different or not, it was generally considered that the Atlanta game had only accentuated that the team’s biggest need going into the 2013 season as pass rush (Seattle had just 33 sacks that season, down from the 50 of the previous year) with the team feeling it at least had to add depth at the spot, especially with Clemons’ injury and having to rely on two rookies in a critical playoff game.

Enter Dan Quinn – now Atlanta’s coach – and Michael Bennett.

Quinn came to Seattle about a week after that season ended, hired to replace Gus Bradley as defensive coordinator when Bradley left to become the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

As free agency neared, Quinn reminded the Seahawks about Bennett, who had played briefly for the Seahawks in 2009 when Bennett was an undrafted rookie free agent (Bennett was waived in October when the Seahawks had to make room for offensive tackle Kyle Williams, who was promoted off the practice squad. Williams played six games over two seasons with Seattle in 2008-09).

Quinn had been Seattle’s defensive line coach in 2009-10 before leaving to become Florida’s defensive coordinator for two years and still had a good relationship with Bennett.

Quinn had helped recruit Bennett to Seattle in 2009 as an undrafted rookie free agent.

“Me and Dan go way back,” Bennett said. “He was one of the main people who brought me to Seattle in the first place. We just have a really good relationship, I kept in contact with him when he was in Florida, always going over my pass rush and going over different things that I can develop as a player and be a better player. I got the chance when he called me, of course Pete (Carroll) called me but I didn’t know who Pete Carroll was, but Dan called me first and was like, ‘You should come down here, I think we have something good, we just need an inside rusher.’ I was like, ‘OK, so I just came out here.’ ”

Bennett became a free agent in 2013 when Tampa Bay let his contract lapse. In what was a weird year for the defensive end market, Seattle was able to get Bennett on a one-year deal worth $5 million, as well as Cliff Avril for two years and $12 million. Each is regarded as among the best free-agent signings in Seattle history.

After two years with the Seahawks, Quinn became the head coach of the Falcons, and for this week, anyway, may not be so happy he played a key part in bringing Bennett to Seattle.

“Mike and I go way back to actually 2009, when he came out of (Texas) A&M,” Quinn said. “I can talk all day about him, what he meant to me as a coach, and it’s because of guys like Mike that I have this fantastic opportunity here. My respect for Mike and some of his teammates is so strong. The biggest thing for me, it goes to show that when you want to work at a level that other people are unwilling to go to, you can take your game to really high heights. Mike had come out of A&M with this really quick get off and could really penetrate and was disruptive, he was tough as hell. Over the course of time, his game kept evolving and kept getting better and better and for those of you that see how quick his hands are and how hard he works, what you don’t see is all the work that goes in behind the scenes when he’s out in Hawaii and putting on all the training that he goes through. The lesson I gained from it, is there’s another spot a player can go to when you’re trying to really go for it. I though Mike embodied that for me as much as anybody I’ve been around.”

The mutual admiration society remains just as strong when it comes to Bennett toward Quinn.

“He’s a players coach,” Bennett said. “He understands how to put people in the right position to be a great player. I think when you can do that, Pete (Carroll) does a great job of that, you can put people in the position where they can be great, they can do great things on the field for you. You see young guys, guys out there that were OK players, now I see them out there in Atlanta and they are out there balling. He embodies a hard-nosed type of coach, and he expects a lot, but at the same time he has that relationship with his players where players can come and talk to him.”

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