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An end to a means
When Red Bryant heard that he was being moved to defensive end, he was overcome by one sudden and overpowering sensation.
“I thought I was getting ready to get cut,” Bryant said.
Instead, Bryant has become a sudden and overpowering cut-above force at the five-technique spot in a Seahawks’ defense that ranks 11th in the league in average rushing yards allowed and tops the NFL in per-carry average allowed entering Sunday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals at CenturyLink Field.
Bryant’s dismay over the proposed position change from tackle to end was rooted in the way he used to look at those who line up outside – like teammate Chris Clemons, a 254-pound whirling dervish of a presence who plays the “Leo” spot opposite Bryant; or even Bryant’s father-in-law, Jacob Green, who played at 256 pounds while registering a franchise-record 116 sacks for the Seahawks from 1980-91.
“You think of an end like ‘Clem,’ those smaller, quicker guys,” Bryant said. “He’s a phenomenal end.”
That description definitely doesn’t fit the 330-pound Bryant. Who could have possibly thought that lining him up outside would work as well as it has? Dan Quinn, the team’s D-line coach in 2009-10.
“That was all something Dan saw, so go ask him,” coach Pete Carroll said at the time of the unlikely conversion.
OK, what was it that Quinn saw? “We’re playing some different defensive fronts, and one of the strengths that Red has is really good length,” he said.
Quinn wasn’t talking only about Bryant’s 6-foot-4 frame. There are those long arms, long legs and quick feet that allow him to play even taller, wider and longer than he is.
“We thought Red had the physical skills to do it, we tried him there and – to his credit – he has really worked hard at it,” Quinn said.
The move of Bryant helped the Seahawks move into the upper echelon of run NFL defenses last season. They ranked second in the league against the run heading into a Week 8 game against the Oakland Raiders. Bryant went down with a season-ending knee injury in that game and the Seahawks ended up ranked 21st in the league in run defense.
This season, Bryant is back, and so is that stout run defense. The Seahawks have yet to allow a 100-yard rusher, although the Browns’ Montario Hardesty came tantalizingly close last week (95 hard-earned yards on 33 carries, for a 2.9-yard average). They are allowing averages of 105 rushing yards per game and 3.2 per carry.
It’s not all Bryant, of course. There’s also nose tackle, and best friend, Brandon Mebane; Alan Branch, who was signed in free agency to play the three-technique tackle spot that opened when Mebane moved to the nose; Clemons, an underrated pass-rusher who gets even less credit for his efforts against the run; the linebacker crew that includes leading tacklers David Hawthorne and Leroy Hill; and a run-supporting secondary that is led by the safety tandem of Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas and oversized cornerback Brandon Browner, who rank 3-4-5 on the team in tackles.
Asked for the secret to the Seahawks’ success against the run, Bryant said, “We’ve got so much respect for each other. We don’t want to let each other down. Basically, it’s just attitude. I know what I’m going to get out of ‘Clem.’ I know what I’m going to get out of Alan Branch. I know what I’m going to get out of Mebane.
“We hold each other accountable, and I feel that’s the best move – when you know your peers are holding each other accountable. That’s our mentality when we go into the game. No matter who we’re playing, for 60 minutes we’re going to give it everything we got.”
But any discussion of the run defense needs to start with Bryant’s large and active presence, because that’s where a lot of running plays seem to hit a dead end – with Bryant either making the tackle, or mucking things up so thoroughly that someone else makes the tackle.
“With Red, what’s amazing about him is just the passion he plays with,” said Todd Wash, who has hired in January to coach the line after Quinn left to become the defensive coordinator at the University of Florida.
Bryant offers a less-flattering, more lunch-pail-and-a-hardhat assessment of his contributions.
“I’m move of a space-eater,” he said. “I can take on blocks and I can clog up the running lanes and things of that nature.”
In addition to his efforts on defense last week, when the Seahawks held the Browns to six points and 298 yards despite being on the field for 43 minutes, Bryant also blocked a club-record two field-goal attempts. At, and after, his insistence.
“Red actually went to the special teams coach and said, ‘Hey, if you call a tackle right or left, I’ll get the block,’ ” Wash said.
From Bryant’s lips, to Brian Schneider’s ears, to the sound of a couple of double-thumps, to the record book.
Just another way that Bryant is making an impact. After waiting two seasons to crack the starting lineup and then waiting through the second half of last season while injured, Bryant is back to doing what he does best – and loving it.
“It’s just validating it, that it wasn’t a fluke as far as last year,” Bryant said. “You’re always going to have expectations, so to be able to come back from a serious injury and to be able to be on a great defense and play with great guys, I couldn’t ask for anything better.”
Well, there is one thing.
“We need to start getting these wins,” he said. “We start winning; maybe we can be around for a long period of time. That’s the last little bit we’ve got to get.”