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View from the O-Zone: Safe landing for Bennett


JACKSONVILLE – This isn't about anger or resentment.

If those things were ever there – and you have to assume they were at least a *little *there – Michael Bennett said they passed quickly. Or they at least turned to something else.

But if the Jaguars' rookie defensive tackle could be excused for placing a prove-everyone-wrong, chip-on-your-shoulder frame on the early part of his NFL career, that's not what he's about. Instead, there is a genuine happiness, because Bennett firmly believes he is in the best spot possible.

He believed it on draft day. If anything, he believes it even more two weeks later.

"It's more and more true every day," Bennett said. "The guys here, the coaching staff, the city – I love everything about it."

Do things happen for a reason?

If you look at Bennett's draft-day story, you have to think so.

He absolutely thinks so – and not just because he's an ideal fit for the Jaguars' defensive front. And considering where Bennett was a couple of weeks ago it's notable that he absolutely, positively believes his draft experience hardly could have ended better.

Bennett, a defensive tackle from Ohio State University, entered the 2015 NFL Draft widely projected as a Day 1-2 selection. At least one prominent web site – – projected him as the No. 31 prospect in the draft, and most projected him in Rounds 2 or 3.

He was a versatile, athletic defensive tackle from a national championship program. He had produced on the field, with 18 sacks – seven as a senior.

But he didn't go in Round 1. He didn't go in Rounds 2 or 3, either. Instead, he slid to Saturday, all the way to Round 6 when the Jaguars selected him No. 220 overall. The shock of #drafttwitter and draft analysts became the Jaguars' gain, with the Jaguars being stunned he was available and analysts calling it a selection of significant value.

That's part of Bennett's story, but to hear him tell it, it's not the most important part, and it's not what he's worrying about now.

"The way the coaches talk, it's not about where you're drafted," Bennett said.

Bennett pointed at the locker next to his at EverBank Field, that of Chris Clemons, a 12-year veteran defensive end who went undrafted in 2003.

"He's a 12-year guy in the league," Bennett said. "It's about keeping your head down, working and not thinking just because you got cut from a team your opportunity is over. The whole 'drafted' thing just has to do with how much money you start with in the league. So, I don't start with as much money as a second-rounder … that's OK. I'm not a big spender."

And resentment? Bitterness? No, Bennett said, there's none of that.

"Everybody's got something to prove," he said. "I've been kind of devalued. That is what it is. All I can do is go get better every day. I'm not going around saying, 'Screw this coach,' or, 'Screw that team.' It is what it is. They made their business decision to the best of their ability and I fell to the sixth.

"You can't carry around that hate and anger. You have to move forward with it."

Some of the reason for Bennett's outlook, too, is that he has learned quickly that he likes the NFL. That sounds logical. What young player doesn't like football? But Bennett said he likes things about the Jaguars and the NFL he maybe didn't expect. The approach of coaches. The expectations.

"I really like it," Bennett said. "It's so much more on you. In college, coaches try to push you or get you to do things the way they want you to do them. Here, everyone has to be on the same page, but if you don't want to work, that's fine with the coaches. They'll just cut you. It's not that they're mean about it. They don't think you're a bad person; you just have to do your job to stay on the team.

"It's so much more self-motivation to study, and to be in shape, and to do your technique right."

Bennett likes that self-starter approach.

"I'm excited to motivate myself rather than have someone breathe down my neck all the time,'' Bennett said. "It's been great."

As for Bennett's NFL future, that remains to be seen. He's projected as a three-technique defensive tackle. While that makes him ideal for the Jaguars' defense, the word was he may have slid in the draft because he was a scheme fit for that position and perhaps not others. He said while that "blindsided" him a bit, if three-technique is his role, he's fine with that.

"I think I'll do very well there," Bennett said. "I think I can actually play other positions. Maybe I'll get that opportunity; maybe not. If not, I'll do my best at three-technique. If I do, I'll do my best at whatever other position I play. It's about getting your opportunity and taking advantage of it."

And Bennett said while it might sound "lame," he honestly feels like his new situation "is a dream come true."

"This is definitely the best fit at the beginning of my career," he said. "I'm really, really happy to be here right now. I'm very thankful (Jaguars Head) Coach (Gus) Bradley gave me the opportunity, because I feel like this is the right coaching staff and the right D-Line to start out in."

And considering where Bennett was a little more than two weeks ago, if those words aren't shocking, they have to feel awfully good to say.

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