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Of all the improbable events that occurred last year for the Seahawks, perhaps none was larger than the what-are-they-thinking move of after-thought defensive tackle Red Bryant to defensive end.
Literally, as well as figuratively.
The 332-pound Bryant was selected in the fourth round of the 2008 draft, but during his first two seasons the number of games he was inactive (22) exceeded his total tackles (16). That all changed last spring, when since-departed line coach Dan Quinn decided to see what Bryant could do as the five-technique end in the new defense being installed by first-year coach Pete Carroll.
“Coach Quinn gave me the opportunity I had been waiting for,” Bryant said, unable to suppress a large smile. “I was extremely nervous, because when you think of a traditional defensive end you think of a guy like ‘Clem’ – a fast, pass-rush end.”
“Clem” would be Chris Clemons, the 254-pounder who was acquired in a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles last spring to play the “Leo” end spot opposite Bryant. All Clemons did was produce a career-high 11 sacks and lead all linemen in tackles (48).
“In our defense, and what we’re trying to do, the two of us fit really well,” Bryant said.
Bryant’s first season as a starter did not have a happy ending, however. He damaged a ligament in his right knee during the Week 8 game against the Raiders in Oakland that required season-ending surgery.
But before he went down, things were looking up for the defense. The Seahawks’ run defense ranked second in the league with Bryant in the lineup, before it slipped to No. 22 without him. Bryant had 17 tackles in the first six games, which ranked third among the linemen. But his impact was greater than any statistics could indicate.
“Things were just never the same after we lost Red,” defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said.
Just as Bryant was not the same player – or person – once he was given a chance to play, and started making plays. He became more vocal. He developed a pogo stick-like spring in his step. He held himself and others accountable, often with demonstrative outbursts along the sideline, on the field or even in the locker room.
It was easy to tell that the game – and life – had become more fun.
“No question about it,” Bryant said last week. “When I came in here, I had high expectations. But I never got the opportunity to contribute like I wanted to. I have to take a lot of the blame for that too, because my demeanor wasn’t like it was this year.
“So I can totally understand how I would look like a different person.”
Bryant continues to rehab his knee, with an eye to what he might be able to accomplish in a full season.
“I feel great,” he said. “The knee is doing well.”
As good as Bryant was to begin last season, he is planning on being even better this season.
“I can’t wait to comeback and pick up where I left off,” Bryant said. “The sky is the limit. I’m trying to exceed what I was able to do in seven games (last season). I want to be dominant.
“And I want to be somebody who’s not only dominant in the NFC West, but when 31 other teams look at the Seahawks I want them to know they’re going to have their hands full. That’s the type of player I want to be.”